In Brief

Legalising assisted dying: a complex, fraught and ‘necessary’ debate

The Assisted Dying Bill – which would allow doctors to assist in the deaths of terminally ill patients – has relevance for ‘millions’

Why on earth are we still debating the right to die with dignity? That’s what I thought as yet another bill on assisted dying went through the House of Lords last week, said Simon Jenkins in The Guardian.

Baroness Meacher’s bill – which would allow doctors to assist in the deaths of terminally ill patients – has relevance for “millions of Britons”. It has popular support, too: a recent YouGov poll showed that three- quarters of Britons favour a change to the law. Yet previous attempts by the Lords to reform it have all got stuck in the Commons. Why are MPs “too cowardly” to legislate for what most people want?

Partly, it’s because such laws raise real moral dilemmas, said Eleni Courea in The Times. However, direct experience of the issue can change people’s minds. Lord Field of Birkenhead once opposed such interventions, but last week, the former MP – who is himself terminally ill – backed this bill.

In a speech read out on his behalf, he explained he’d had a change of view, after seeing a friend’s suffering. The friend had wanted to die before the “full horror effects” of cancer set in, but had been “denied this opportunity”.

Yet this form of assisted dying doesn’t guarantee an easeful death, said David Rose in the Daily Mail. Meacher’s bill wouldn’t allow doctors to administer a large dose of morphine, so that patients can “slip away”, as they can in Belgium and the Netherlands.

What the bill proposes is a system more like that in some US states, where mentally competent patients with less than six months to live can be prescribed a lethal “cocktail of drugs” they take themselves. And in the US, this has, in some cases, proved harrowing: there are reports of patients suffering seizures, and “regurgitations”. In 2017, one man, Kurt Huschle, took eight hours to die.

I sympathise with those who’ve had to watch a loved one in agony, said Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph, but the implications of this bill are too dangerous to ignore. People–particularly the elderly and vulnerable–“like to do what is expected of them”, and may feel they are being “selfish” by staying alive. Statistics from the US state of Oregon bear this out: more than 50% of those who chose “assisted suicide” cited being a “burden” on others as a reason.

That’s an important point, said Kenan Malik in The Observer – one that raises wider questions about how we regard the elderly and infirm in our society. The debate about assisted dying is necessary; it is also complex and fraught. Whatever side we land on, let us remember that “truth and moral decency lie on both sides”.

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