PROTECTING VULNERABLE PEOPLE

Robust and effective safeguards are central to our campaign for legal assisted dying. In places where assisted dying is legal, the evidence is overwhelmingly positive – people access assisted deaths free from coercion. The result is a reduction in suffering.   

A BLANKET-BAN LAW DOESN’T PROTECT VULNERABLE PEOPLE

The UK’s ban on assisted dying hasn’t stopped some people helping others to die. It has only driven the practice overseas or underground. We think that strong safeguards should be put in place upfront; and that assisted dying should be regulated to ensure that any decisions people make are clear and settled wishes, arrived at free from coercion. 

  • Our research shows that up to 30% of people who travel to Switzerland for an assisted death are unknown to the police. But it’s unknown how many people covertly receive help in the UK – so the number is likely to be even higher. If people are already flying under the police’s radar, there is no way they can be protected
  • Independent research suggests that the current law pressures people into ending their lives sooner than they’d want, because they fear if they don’t travel abroad to die they might become too ill to do so at a later date
  • In the absence of legal and expert guidance, many people seek out advice from unqualified or unethical sources. Instead of ending their suffering, this can result in ‘botched’ efforts and, even worse, pain.

HOW LEGALISED ASSISTED DYING COULD PROTECT VULNERABLE PEOPLE

There is no credible evidence from countries that have legalised assisted dying, that a change in the law would pressurise vulnerable people. In fact, independent study after study including from Professor Batin et al, Dr Luc Deliens et al, and Professor James Downar et al have all concluded the exact opposite.

My Death, My Decision would press for any law which permitted assisted dying to include a set of robust safeguards to satisfy independent medical assessors that people are making fully informed, clear decisions, free from coercion. For example, these could include requiring that: 

  • Someone would only be able to raise the prospect of an assisted death themselves, i.e. a doctor could not do it
  • Two independent medical assessors would have to be satisfied that someone was fully informed of all alternative treatments, had made a well-considered and consistent request, and had not been coerced
  • Someone must be provided with the opportunity to receive counselling before being assisted to die
  • Anyone who assisted another person to die must report their involvement to an independent oversight council.

These safeguards would be effective, because the issues posed by assisted dying are already confronted by doctors on a day-to-day basis. Assessing if someone has capacity, is making a voluntary decision, and whether they are aware of their alternatives are all routine parts of current end of life options such as refusing life-sustaining treatment. It is accepted in these contexts that the problem of unscrupulous relatives and vulnerable people can be squarely confronted and overcome. Assisted dying would be no different.