“Fundamental to this debate is the concept of personal choice and autonomy,” she said in her own May 20 essay for The House. She contended that pro-assisted suicide opinion has increased since Parliament last considered a legalization move.
“At present dying people can starve themselves to death or they can reject further treatment, or end their own lives in other ways. We need a better alternative for dying people,” she said.
She cited problems some people face at the end of life, like cases of someone in extreme pain who might be allergic to opioid drugs or other painkillers. She cited people with motor neuron disease, saying they “may not suffer pain but steadily and irrevocably lose the ability to move and who ultimately cannot eat, drink, speak or breathe unaided.”
“For many people this strikes at the core of who they are as a person,” she said. Contending that everyone has an idea of what they would find unbearable at the end of life, she said “we can decide for ourselves: is this level of suffering bearable for me?”
The legalization proposal has some restrictions. Two doctors must certify that a patient is terminally ill and has no more than six months to live. They must certify the patient has the mental capacity to choose assisted suicide, without influence from others. The proposed law also requires close relatives of patients requesting assisted suicide to be interviewed, and intends that a High Court judge will oversee the process.
Meacher’s bill will have its first reading on May 26. It is not clear if the latest proposal will reach the House of Commons.
An all-party Parliamentary Group called Living and Dying Well is among the organizations opposed to assisted suicide. It has published a booklet, “Truths and Half Truths about Assisted Dying,” critical of claims by assisted suicide advocates like Dignity in Dying.
Among the critics of assisted suicide is Baroness Finlay of Landaff, a Welsh doctor who is a professor of palliative care and an independent crossbench member of the House of Lords.
Writing in a May 20 essay for The House magazine, she said that society rightly treats people who attempt suicide with “compassion” while being clear that “suicide is not something to be encouraged or assisted.”
“Yet how can we maintain that, while saying that some groups (for now, the terminally ill) should have their suicide assisted? Are the lives of those who are dying less deserving of efforts to improve their quality, even if prognosis is short?” she asked.
Seriously ill patients often seek guidance from their doctors, not only treatment, and are “susceptible to subtle messaging,” according to Finlay. “A doctor who agrees to a request for lethal drugs risks sending the message, however unintended, that in his or her opinion suicide is the patient’s best course of action.”
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Assisted suicide is illegal in the U.K., and doctors who assist a suicide can be jailed up to 14 years under the Suicide Act of 1961.