We must tread carefully along the path to assisted dying

I think the objective of the briefing was to stimulate an article on roughly the lines that you see before you: roughly, that is, but not exactly. Sometimes you begin a discussion with a general prejudice to agree with someone – and then, as the conversation goes on, you find yourself prey to misgivings.

The young woman from Dignity in Dying was charming and persuasive, but as we talked about the exact terms of the Bill, I started to worry that it might indeed pave the way for something unintended – something ugly and distressing: not exactly a culture of death, but a world in which it was simply too easy to opt for this state-approved self-extinction.

The problem lies in the first couple of paragraphs, where the Bill defines those who would be eligible to take the “medicine” (a euphemism if ever there was one) or to have it administered to them. They must be someone who has a terminal illness and who “as a consequence of that terminal illness is reasonably expected to die within six months”. Now I am sure that infinite care has gone into the drafting of that phrase, but it surely encompasses a potentially very wide group of people.

Many hundreds of thousands of people, old and young, find themselves living on with terminal illnesses – cancers and other afflictions – for a very long time; and obviously a great many will prefer life to the alternative. It goes without saying that many are capable of taking continuing interest and pleasure in their lives. But it is also true of those people that their conditions could deteriorate quite quickly – and that they could die within a relatively short space of time.

In other words, there are a large number of people whose deaths would not come as a huge surprise to a doctor – and who could therefore be described as people who could “reasonably be expected to die within six months”. I would like to see this language tightened up, so that the category of those who might be eligible for the “medicine” is not as broad as it currently seems. Surely it cannot be beyond the skills of the parliamentary draftsmen to amend the phrase slightly, so that assisted dying could be provided only to those who “could not reasonably be expected to survive more than six months”.

You may say there is not much difference between the two categories. I think the difference is very significant. It is the difference between the strong possibility of death within six months, and the overwhelming probability of death within six months. It is the difference between the category of those who could very well be claimed by the Reaper at any time within the next six months, and the category of those who are clearly not going to survive much longer. This change would restrict the number of those eligible for assisted dying – though obviously it would still greatly expand the possibilities for alleviating suffering at the end of our lives.

I think it right to be cautious, because we are proposing to make a very big change in our approach to death and dying: giving people much more of a right to choose when to die, and above all giving the state an obligation to help us consciously to do away with ourselves, if certain conditions are satisfied.

I am sure it is a change the public broadly supports, and one whose time has come. But life is precious and our psychology fragile. Those suffering terminal illnesses can easily find themselves under pressure – external or internal – to make decisions from which, obviously, there is no going back.

If we are going to take this step, we should make it a small one, and see how it goes. I would like to see the Falconer Bill apply not to all those who might well die in the next six months, but only to those whose lives are overwhelmingly likely to be very near the end.

4 thoughts on “We must tread carefully along the path to assisted dying”

  1. Please come out in my 8 wheel tipper in London for one hour and see if it’s the lorrys or the bikes

  2. Should Nick Clegg be allowed to suffer such agonies? Can the spin doctors not help?

    And what of the death-throes of the SNP? They have been screaming for an English-free UK for months.Shouting, “the doctor is a Posh Tory” Well done George Osborne,he seriously messed up their chief Goblin’s head a Mr Dumpty.

  3. Why not just let the nature take it’s course like the old times? Not assisting needed but just stopping spend large amount of money in treatments that prolong few days or months of the dying from dying?

    No assisting needed. Just let be and them as less painful as possible.

  4. As if we dont already have enough to contend with, we now have to chose to opt out of the already over populated world in which we live. While critics may say that I dont know what it feels to be in pain blah blah blah, I live with pain so intense I wonder how I go from day to day without medication but I do thank God. If you are unfortunate to say you wanted to commit suicide it is more than likely that members of the public will think that you have mental health issues and the possibility exist that you might be sectioned in a mental hospital, labelled for life, now stigmatized without the possibility of finding or holding down a job. Now we have an assisted suicide bill, oh dear, the right to live, the right to die, what about the right of the feeble who unfortunately may feel pressured by love one and the extensive care that they may provide and the fact that they may on an off day make the vulnerable feel guilty for living. What about the feeble whose family do not care to keep them in their own home with dignity but would prefer them to live in a care home, what is to stop them from applying a little pressure. We recently had that horrendous couple who killed their parents and buried them in the garden just to get their dirty fingers on their money. Heh wake up and smell the coffee, do not add sugar to it just yet for more for adding milk which might proverbially make it curdle. These are real people, for will be vulnerable, it might be the view of the GP that a person has six months to live but what about those who with adequate care that goes on to live for a another couple of years and more sometimes. Lord Faulk hasn’t looked through this from all perspective at all, he might of draft a bill based on yes a couple of people who he has sympathy with but I say firmly he hasn’t done it very well at all and I mean no disrespect by saying so but if you have a parent, grandparents or someone whom you love just turn around and take a look at them for when they are gone they are gone. They are not in another room, where when life hits you in the stomach like it sometimes do, you could run and put your arms around them and they will make it better just by being there. THINK BEFORE WE REALLY MAKE THIS LEAP OF ILL FATE.

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