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Assisted Dying: Do We Have a Right to Die?

Posted by Fojan Nourouzi on 5 May 2016

There seems to be widespread opposition to the right to die from Parliament. This opinion seems to be rather consistent and entrenched as the BBC reported that 74% of MPs voted against the Assisted Dying Bill in 2015 in comparison to the 72% in 1997 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34208624).

The dichotomy consists of those who believe that personal autonomy should be respected and that those who are suffering have the right to a peaceful departure and the opponents who are concerned with the true motives behind assisted suicide.

Some are of the view that the prohibition is necessary to protect those who are vulnerable in society, such as, the elderly who may be coerced into assisted dying from their carers who no longer want to look after them as well those suffering from depression. Although proponents argue that under the proposals there would have been sufficient checks in place to protect against this. For instance, the fact that two doctors and a High Court judge would need to approve every case.

Rob Marris, a Labour MP was of the view that at the very least the Assisted Dying Bill would bring about more choice for the terminally ill so that even if they had not come to a firm decision they were given the mental ease of knowing that another option would be available.   

In March 2014, 89 year old Anne went to the Dignitas organisation seeking an assisted death in Switzerland. It was reported that her motive behind this was being ‘tired of life’ in the digital age.  

Professor Suzanne Ost invoked an interesting consideration of what should be inside the remit of assisted dying (https://lancslaw.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/tired-of-life/). Many proponents base their position on the respect for personal autonomy. Is it fair to give X, who has terminal cancer a right to die, but not to grant such right to Y who is ill with multiple sclerosis and is expected to have at least another five years of suffering remaining? With that in mind, what if person Z’s suffering was due to her being tired of life and is as intolerable to her as X and Y’s suffering is to them?

There seems to be a floodgates fear involved that by allowing Z to have an assisted death, it will stretch the boundaries of what satisfies the requirement to be granted an assisted death and thus making it easier to come within the remit.

Another potential issue is whether it is undiagnosed depression fuelling a person’s desire to have an assisted death as it has been reported that a large section of the elderly population suffer from depression which has not been diagnosed. As Professor Ost suggested, a way to prevent this type of assisted death request being granted is to have a psychiatric assessment of the person, although there may still be doubts as to the accuracy of these tests.

Even though for most, assisted dying would be an absolute last resort there is a danger that for some, the availability of the choice may be a deterrent to motivating themselves to make the best of their situation by using the depths of their mental strength. The reason behind this may be that a UK law allowing assisted dying may portray a general validation and acceptance of someone ending their life earlier than its natural course.

These considerations prompt questions of whether assisted dying should be restricted to merely being driven by a medical condition as with Dutch law or whether any type of unbearable pain and suffering should be accepted for consideration to then be analysed on a case by case basis. Undoubtedly, this is a sensitive issue and striking the balance between respect for a person’s freedom of choice and desire as well as protecting the vulnerable in society proves to be difficult.

 

Fojan Nourouzi

Written by Fojan Nourouzi

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