Compassion lead to assisted dying law, say international experts

Today, the Health and Social Care Committee heard testimony from experts from countries where access to assisted dying is permitted based on ‘unbearable suffering’. In the first panel, experts from Belgium and the Netherlands explained that compassion was the primary motive behind their early adoption of such a law.

Experts also explained that having a law introduces additional scrutiny to end-of-life care. Professor Bernheim explained that Belgium and the Netherlands are where end-of-life issues have been studied the most intensely. He highlighted that since the law was introduced there has been “much more control, much more scrutiny, much more awareness, much more compassion”.

So far, debates in the UK on assisted dying have mostly been limited to the terminally ill, but this session showed that a law that extends to people who are incurably, intolerably suffering is the most compassionate way forward. Professor Irene Tuffrey-Wijne explained that she doesn’t think the six-month prognosis is logical and it could be interpreted as unfair.

My Death, My Decision would welcome an assisted dying law in the UK that grants mentally capable adults the option of an assisted death if they are enduring unbearable suffering from an incurable physical condition.

The experts showed that across the world, where assisted dying has been introduced, palliative care has dramatically improved. Professor James Downar has said that since the introduction of an assisted dying law, Canada has seen the most historic increase in funding for palliative care. Since the introduction of an assisted dying law, Netherlands and Belgium now have the most developed palliative care in Europe and in Belgium, confidence in the medical system is high, even higher than it was before the law was introduced.

Professor Downar explained that in Canada the vast majority of people who received assisted dying, over 80% had received palliative care and 98% had access to palliative care.

Trevor Moore, Chair of My Death, My Decision, said:

“It is heartening to hear from those on the frontline of assisted dying in other countries that the key driver for the introduction of a law was compassion. That is what drives our campaign for a law in England and Wales, because above all we want to end unnecessary suffering.

Research from the Office of Health Economics shows that even the best palliative care cannot alleviate suffering in thousands of cases each year. We urge the Health and Social Care Committee to help remedy this by recommending a compassionate law for the UK – following the 28 jurisdictions that have already done so.”

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