Published: 06:00, 14 November 2019
Parliament has rejected the legalisation of assisted dying several times in recent years.
Many opponents say the move would be a “slippery slope” towards allowing vulnerable people to end their lives.
Among those strongly against a change in the law is the Archbishop of Canterbury. In 2015, he told the Guardian: “Respect for the lives of others goes to the heart of both our criminal and human rights laws and ought not to be abandoned.
“A change in the law would place very many thousands of vulnerable people at risk.
“The current law and the guidelines for practice work; compassion is shown, the vulnerable are protected.
“The current law is not ‘broken’. There is no need to fix it.”
Recently, three doctorslaunched a legal challenge after the Royal College of Physicians’ dropped its opposition to assisted dying. Out of those polled by the medical body, 80% of doctors who specialise in relieving the pain of dying patients strongly oppose the idea.
But the Dignity in Dying campaign group believes only those who are already dying, with six months or less to live, should have the option to control their death.
The group is keen to distinguish between “assisted dying”, which it supports, and “assisted suicide”.
“Dying people are not suicidal,” says the group. “They don’t want to die but they do not have the choice to live.
“When death is inevitable, suffering should not be. Along with good care, dying people deserve the choice to control the timing and manner of their death.”
The legality of assisted dying overseas - in countries such as the Netherlands and Switzerland, and in nine US states - leads many terminally ill British people to travel abroad to die.
DiD estimates that this happens, on average, once every 10 days.
“The current law and the guidelines for practice work; compassion is shown, the vulnerable are protected..."Archbishop of Canterbury
On return to the UK, friends or family who have helped them face prosecution and jail sentences of up to 14 years.
DiD is now pushing for a law to be passed, based on that which has been in place in Oregon since 1997.
It would limit legal assisted dying to terminally ill adults who are mentally competent.
It requires the dying person to end their own life, rather than allowing another person to do it, and also stipulates a waiting period to give the ill person time to reflect on their choice.
It also requires assessment by both doctors and a High Court judge.
DiD says as many as 86% of people and 54% of GPs support a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults.
Last month (October), 18 police and crime commissioners (PCCs) from around the country penned a letter to Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland, calling for an inquiry into the country’s current “blanket ban” on assisted dying. The call has also been backed by 20 cross-party MPs.
But Mike Moroney, leader of Dignity in Dying East Kent, says he is “disappointed” to see Kent PCC Matthew Scott is not among those 18.
He says the current law relating to assisted dying for the terminally ill “lacks compassion and clarity”.
“I have recently witnessed my sister’s end-of-life,” said the 80-year-old. “Because her medical condition and her age precluded surgery, she was effectively starved to death while being pumped full of morphine.
“This prolonged her life for 12 long stressful and undignified days. Had the law allowed, she could have requested that her life be shortened with medical assistance and medical professionals would have been free to do this without fear of prosecution.
“The law in many other countries is far more caring and compassionate. Why are we so backward in Britain?
“This issue is so important that it should be included in the manifestos of all political parties as we approach a general election.”