We must stop the game of political pass-the-parcel and have an open debate on assisted dying
“Assisted dying is an issue that evokes strong and sincere views on all sides”. This phrase has been passed around whenever the issue of assisted dying is raised in Parliament, much the same way that political responsibility for the issue has been.
For the past fifteen years there has been little movement in the debate since Lord Joffe’s Select Committee. The courts have declined to intervene, and government deems this a matter for Parliament – whilst
“not currently having any plans to initiate a review of the law … or publish a call for evidence”.
However, this game of political pass-the-parcel has done nothing for those that continue to suffer from debilitating terminal illnesses, those around them who suffer by seeing their loved ones waste away, and chiefly: it does not reflect the changing attitudes of our medical professionals and nation at large. The British Medical Association reports that half of British doctors personally support legal assisted dying, with just 39% opposing a change in the law. According to a recent survey by the National Centre for Social Research, on behalf of My Death, My Decision, between 76% and 88% of the British public find assisted dying acceptable, depending on the nature of the situation Often the right to a choice is countered by claims that legalising assisted dying would lead to an increased number of UK citizens choosing to end their lives. However, the fact of the matter is simple: despite no legal protection or support from the government, UK citizens are already travelling overseas in droves – often at great cost to themselves and their families. A report by the Assisted Dying Coalition found that the number of Britons travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death has increased sixfold over the last fifteen years. The Economist reports that police forces across the UK are already turning a blind eye to the law on this matter.
So, the question remains: why do we keep a law that is largely unenforced?
Why do we force our citizens to travel to overseas at great financial cost? Why do we force their loved ones who accompany them to face time in prison if a particularly zealous police force decides to enforce the law? Why do we refuse to take responsibility for our own outdated laws that fly in the face of public opinion, professional opinion, and now international opinion? Already the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, Spain, Australia and New Zealand have changed their laws to allow physician assisted suicide. Portugal, Germany, Austria, Italy and the United States are in the process of reviewing their existing legislation.
Yet we are not. We continue to dodge responsibility whilst those with terminal illnesses continue to suffer. We continue to deny them the choice. Why should their death not be their decision?
“Why should their death not be their decision?”