Suicide is defined as “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally”. It has not been a crime in England and Wales since 1961, and was never a crime in Scotland. The definition covers many different situations.
In MDMD we distinguish between two types of suicide:
Emotional suicide results from someone being deeply troubled by a situation that, with appropriate help, guidance and support, could have been resolved. These desperate situations arise because of circumstances that are overwhelming to the individual such as mental health problems, severe financial problems or clinical depression. MDMD strongly encourage anyone who feels suicidal in this way to see their GP or phone the Samaritans. Loss of life in these situations, often violently, is tragic and should be prevented by all possible means.
In contrast to this is what we call Rational Suicide. This is where someone, due to worsening health conditions, and after careful consideration of the facts, decides that their life is complete and their quality of life has deteriorated incurably below the level they are prepared to accept. In these circumstances it is understandable that some people choose to end their lives rather than endure days, months or possibly years of very poor quality of life. This is most likely to affect those who are elderly. The decision should not be reached until all other avenues such as palliative care and support in living with reduced abilities have been carefully considered and found unacceptable to the individual.
Some of those opposed to a change in the law to permit assisted suicide, argue that because suicide is legal and anyone can choose to do so if they wish, a change in the law is unnecessary. MDMD believe this view is cruel and heartless. We do not advocate this as an acceptable solution. The people who rationally wish to end their lives are typically weak and elderly and are suffering from one or more incurable medical conditions which they find intolerable. A compassionate society should not expect such people to end their lives themselves, alone, without assistance. MDMD campaigns for a more humane approach for those whose idea of a good death is painlessly going to sleep and never waking up, at a time of their choosing, in a comfortable environment, possibly in the company of close relatives or friends.
Research by Dignity in Dying published in October 2014 estimated that over 7% of suicides were of people who have terminal illnesses. That is 10 times as many as go to Switzerland to end their life. This does not include people with illnesses which, though not “terminal”, are incurable and reduce their quality of life below the level they are able to tolerate, so the real proportion of “rational” suicides is likely to be much higher.
Unlike some other right-to-die organisations which produce well researched books on non-violent “rational suicide” and “self-deliverance” methods, MDMD does not offer information on the practicalities of “do it yourself” (DIY) rational suicide.
The story of Avril Henry, widely reported in the media, is an example of someone who used illegally obtained drugs to end her life. However, her drugs were tracked by the police – who raided her house in search of them. The case illustrates some of the dreadful consequences of the current law. First it can make someone feel they have no option but to resort to obtaining drugs illegally abroad to obtain the good death they wish for (or at least a better death than other available options). Second, if the authorities become aware of illegal drug importation they have a duty to investigate and uphold the law, and potentially protect the individual. This is not the sort of “help” a desperate person needs to ensure they have a good death. The way this was done in this case, by a police raid, seems highly insensitive and inappropriate.
The statistics on suicide attempts without professional medical help to obtain appropriate drugs show a high failure rate. It has been estimated that for every successful attempt there are between 20 and 50 failed attempts. [Swiss research quoted by Dignitas] An example of a failure was reported in the 2016 BBC documentary ‘How To Die: Simon’s Choice’, about MND sufferer, Simon Binner. At one point Simon attempted to hang himself, but failed. A desperate act causing distress to himself and his family, which would have been avoided if there were an appropriate law in this country which allowed his end of life wishes to be carried out in the UK. [Following this incident, Simon’s wife helped him go to Switzerland to end his life with legal medical help at Lifecircle.]
- No need to travel to Switzerland for a DIY suicide.
Disadvantages and Limitations:
- There is no professional counselling to ensure the person is making the appropriate decision.
- Obtaining lethal drugs from abroad is illegal and it is unknown what exactly is being supplied.
- It has to be done alone, without assistance from anyone else. Any other person who is involved is open to a charge of assisting suicide or murder, subject to DPP guidelines on prosecution. This must be a very lonely end to life.
- Requesting help from someone else puts the person being asked in a terrible position – they may wish to help you out of compassion, but they know that assisted suicide and murder are illegal. At the very least someone who helps would be subjected to a criminal investigation, at worst a custodial sentence. A recent study of people convicted of assisted suicide in New Zealand highlights the serious effects it has on their lives, despite their belief that they “did the right thing”.
- It can go wrong – leaving the person in a worse state than before, unable to do anything about it.
- Researching, arranging, and carrying out a successful DIY rational suicide requires a level of mental and physical ability that a person may not have at the time when they would ideally like to die. For this reason some people feel the need to end their lives earlier than they would wish – while they still have the ability to do so.
- Some people who have not carefully researched DIY options may choose violent traumatic methods. Not a pleasant way to spend one’s final moments.
- Depending on the method used, it can be very traumatic and unpleasant for the person who discovers a suicide.
- An unexpected suicide can be difficult for family and friends to come to terms with – much harder than a carefully discussed medically assisted suicide, or a choice to voluntarily stop eating and drinking.