Where do I stand on The Assisted Dying Bill?

I appreciate there are strong arguments and feelings on both sides of the debate.  Terminal illness and end of life care must inspire the highest degree of compassion and, the most respectful debate.

Until we see the actual bill we can’t be absolutely sure, but the bill to be bought before Parliament in September is to be based on Lord Falconers’ recent bill.

I am deeply concerned about the wider social message that legalising assisted dying would send, the lack of safeguards in the bill, the potential for abuse and how, once legalised for a very few under particular set of circumstances, the legislation would develop. 

I am concerned that any change in the law would have damaging consequences in society’s attitudes towards the value of human life.  As it stands, the law has flexibility enough to accommodate individual circumstances while maintaining the hugely important wider principle that assisting in ending another’s life is wrong.   It acts as something of a safeguard for the vulnerable against those whose motives are not selfless.

For every person that we might consider to have a clear and settled wish to end their life (a safeguard of the proposed bill) there will be countless others who are vulnerable. If, as a society we make assisted dying legal, we would be legitimising the fears and anxieties of so many sick who worry they are a burden on their family, the NHS or wider society. Changing the law could place pressure on people.  There is no safeguard sufficient to stop a person feeling a burden.

Do we need to decriminalise assisted dying to protect loved ones against the force of the law?  As recently as last year, clarification was sought on the current guidelines from the Director of Prosecutions (DPP).  After debate in the House of Commons, guidelines were unanimously deemed to be “compassionate and measured.” The DPP has discretion not to prosecute in certain cases – for example where there is no malice, no material gain or coercion and there are clear, compassionate circumstances.

It is important to consider the position taken by the medical community. The BMA (British Medical Authority) “opposes all forms of assisted dying and supports the current legal framework.” The Royal Colleges oppose a relaxation in the law and 4 in 5 doctors say they do not want to take these decisions, and do not feel equipped to do so. Licensing doctors to supply lethal drugs could change the patient/doctor relationship.

Greater access to palliative care is critical. Our own outstanding local hospice, St Wilfrids, is a shining example and a beacon of hope in this regard. With that in mind, I welcome the Department of Health’s End of Life Care Strategy which seeks to enhance specialist care and hospice provision.

‘Legislative creep’ is also a genuine concern and a valid argument from those who lobby against assisted dying who see this as ‘a first step.’ In countries where assisted dying has been legalised, the law has gradually been extended to allow euthanasia – voluntary and involuntary – and euthanasia for children.  It is perhaps for this reason that no major disability group favours a change in the law.

Supporters of the bill often point to popular polls which suggest a majority of people endorse the principle of changing the law to allow for assisted dying but what research also shows (ComRes July 2014) is that of that number, nearly half changed their position in practice when asked to consider potential implications. British Parliaments have consistently voted down proposals to legalise assisted suicide, the Scottish most recently.

This is a question of conscience.  I will be attending the second reading of the assisted dying bill on 11th September and I am sure you will understand, by the concerns I express here, that I cannot in all conscience, support it.