This is a campaign video by Dignity in Dying. The organisation is encouraging people to support the legalisation of assisted death in the UK to those who have a sufferable illness.
We believe that everyone has the right to a dignified death. This means:
- Choice over where we die, who is present and our treatment options.
- Access to expert information on our options, good quality end-of-life care, and support for loved ones and carers.
- Control over how we die, our symptoms and pain relief, and planning our own death.
I looked on the website. And there are quotations of ‘celebrity’ supporters and this one stood out because it reasserts the idea that we choose how we experience life, so why shouldn’t we have the same choice over our death?
“We live in a free society with all the choices that go with it. We choose when to marry, have children, what treatment we should have, where to live, who to consult for advice, in fact how we should live our lives. This should include the opportunity to choose the time we die.”Simon Weston OBE, Dignity in Dying Patron
Dignity in Dying Organisation has a section with information about the countries that do support assisted dying:
A number of countries have enacted legislation to provide terminally ill people with the choice an assisted death, within legal safeguards. These safeguards have protected vulnerable people  whilst ensuring that terminally ill patients do not have to suffer unnecessarily against their wishes.
The Belgian Act on Euthanasia was passed in May 2002. The law allows adults who are in a “futile medical condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated” to request voluntary euthanasia.
In February 2008, the Luxembourg Parliament approved a Law on the Right to Die with Dignity. This allows a person who is suffering unbearably from an illness, and is mentally competent, to request medical assistance to die.
The Netherlands introduced assisted dying legislation in 2002. Patients who have an incurable condition, face unbearable suffering and are mentally competent may be eligible for voluntary euthanasia or assisted dying.
There are about 3,500 cases of assisted dying or voluntary euthanasia a year.
Since the legislation has been in place rates of non-voluntary euthanasia (i.e. doctors actively ending patients’ lives without having been asked by them to do so) decreased from 0.8% of all deaths in 1991 (1,000 deaths) to 0.4% in 2005 (550 deaths).
The Oregon Death with Dignity Act has been in place for 10 years. It gives terminally ill, mentally competent people the option of an assisted death. Recent research from the Journal of Medical Ethics concluded that in Oregon there is no evidence of abuse or the so-called ‘slippery slope’.
The numbers using the Act to die are low and steady – and in ten years just 341 people have been assisted to die, but many more have taken comfort from knowing the option is there.
Voluntary euthanasia is forbidden in Switzerland. However, Article 115 of the Swiss Penal Code exempts people who assist someone to commit suicide, if they act with entirely honourable motives.
Washington state voted in favour of an assisted dying law modelled on the Oregon legislation (the vote took place alongside the presidential election November 2008).
58% of Washingtonians voted in favour of a change in the law in a voter initiative – the law will not come into effect instantaneously, and may face challenges (as the Oregon law did when it was endorsed in a similar voter initiative).
And pressure for change continues in other countries:
There was a public outcry following the case of Chantal Sebire, a mother of three, who had a rare and extremely painful form of cancer, and was refused an assisted death in February 2008.
Following Chantal Sebire’s death, President Sarkozy ordered a study of possible amendments to the law. Several senior French politicians have said they favoured a right to assisted dying.
Minister of Justice Mariano Fernandez Bermejo recently met with campaigners for a change in the law on assisted dying in Summer 2008. He has since said that the Ministry will study the possible reform of the law.
1. Independent research has found no evidence to justify the grave concerns about the negative impact of assisted dying legislation on potentially vulnerable groups. Researchers carefully examined data from Oregon and the Netherlands and assessed the use of assisted dying legislation for a number of potentially vulnerable groups. The researchers concluded there was no evidence to support claims that assisted dying legislation would have a negative impact on these people – Margaret P Battin, Agnes van der Heide, Linda Ganzini, Gerrit van der Wal, Bregje D Onwuteaka-Philipsen, ‘Legal physician-assisted dying in Oregon and the Netherlands: evidence concerning the impact on patients in vulnerable groups’, Journal of Medical Ethics 2007; 33:591-597
2. Annual Report on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, Department of Human Services, March 2007
3. Ganzini et al, ‘Oregon Physician’s attitudes about and experiences with end-of-life care since the passage of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act’, JAMA, 285;18, May 9 2001, 2363-2369. Goy et al, ‘Oregon hospice nurses and social workers’ assessment of physician progress in palliative care over the past 5 years’, Palliative and Supportive Care 2003, 1, 215-219
4. Bernheim et al, ‘Development of palliative care and legalisation of euthanasia: antagonism or synergy?’, BMJ 2008, 336: 864-867
This debate it very much at the forefront of the media right now. But it’s all statistics and less about the individuals.
I fully support Dignity in Dying UK.