THE ASSISTED DYING BILL: A NECESSARY EVIL?

Recent comments made by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey with regards to the Assisted Dying Bill mark a significant blow to opposition campaigners against the bill. In the Daily Mail, he writes: “Today we face a central paradox. In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be promoting anguish and pain, the very opposite of a Christian message of hope.” Lord Carey’s words coupled with retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu’s follow up: “I revere the sanctity of life – but not at any cost.” [1] This means that the debate on assisted suicide can no longer be made solely on the grounds of Christian reasoning. Support of euthanasia can be framed on the fundamental principle of hope for an individual through the relieving of their suffering.

The Assisted Dying Bill would allow a terminally ill individual who is six months from death to end their life early through a lethal injection administered by a doctor. These patients will have to be mentally competent and two independent doctors must judge that the patient made an informed decision to end the end their life before the procedure can go ahead.

Whilst religious concerns were addressed, the opposition campaign have raised the problem of one’s choice over euthanasia being motivated extrinsically. It is an issue that was raised by Baroness Grey-Thompson in an interview with the New Statesman.

“Choice is a word that’s frequently used in this debate but there’s a very fine line between genuine choice and people making the decision that they feel they should to help other people. I could see why at a really low point in your life, you could think that was the only choice you have. If this law gets through, we’ll never know how many people will have been forced or encouraged to do it. It might be none. But I’d like the data to prove that, and the danger is that it’ll no longer be measured.”[2]

It is hoped however that the use of two independent doctors will directly tackle this concern as they will judge whether there was outside pressure which proved influential enough to obscure the individual’s choice in ending their life.

Yet this process of judging the underlying motivations behind one’s decision is open to scrutiny. Baroness Hollins, a former president of both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists has raised these difficulties, going further to state that there are “no possible safeguards” which can adequately protect the vulnerable.

Furthermore, in a letter written to the Telegraph by opponents to the bill including Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, who suffers from a degenerative illness, and the chair of the disability charity Scope, Dr Alice Maynard,  fears were expressed that inequality towards disabled and older people would be reinforced if the bill was to pass.[3]

“Why is it that when people who are not disabled want to commit suicide, we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide, we focus on how we can make that possible?

“We believe that the campaign to legalise assisted suicide reinforces deep-seated beliefs that the lives of sick and disabled people are not worth as much as other people’s; that if you are disabled or terminally ill, it’s not worth being alive.

“Disabled people want help to live – not to die.” [4]

Taking these views into consideration, it is important to note that giving disabled people the chance to escape from their pain signifies that they are being listened to, appreciated and henceforth they are considered seriously. This chance means giving them a choice to determine their fate but it does not suggest they are pushed into a decision. Through this choice, they are treated equally with a non-disabled person who also has the same choice.

Moreover disabled people do have help to live. Modern medicine and the continual advancement in medical research allows lives to be extended whilst personal carers ensure that the quality of life for the disabled improves. Additional measures such as the Equality Act further ensure this.

As for whether disabled people want help to die, this is a deeply personal matter dependent on the individual. If one was to hit the psychological wall where they wish to no longer suffer then to deny them the chance to escape further pain would only bring further pain onto them.

It is for these reasons why the Assisted Dying Bill is an admirable attempt to provide the terminally ill with choice. To give them the chance to end their lives should their pain become unbearable. Of course there are problems regarding how an individual’s motivations can be ascertained but these problems are likely to remain for some time. The passing through of this bill will signal that the views of the terminally ill are being listened to, are appreciated and thus they are being treated equally and so whilst not perfect, the bill offers the best way to address the concerns of the terminally ill.

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