Several news sources report the suicide of Sir Nicholas Wall, the former President of the Family Division, Britain’s most senior family law judge. The Daily Mail has some particularly interesting quotes.
MDMD are not aware of the full circumstances of Sir Nicholas Wall’s death, but the case highlights the following issues:
- Faced with an illness that permanently reduces one’s quality of life below the level one can accept, a decision to end one’s life is a rational and understandable choice for some people.
- If the law were changed to provide legal medically assisted suicide, then people like Sir Nicholas would be likely to seek professional support, in the knowledge that a legal medically assisted suicide would be available when necessary. Evidence from countries where this is available demonstrates that in some cases this can help people delay the point at which they chose to end their lives.
- Dementia, and other conditions which can be intolerable for well over 6 months, highlight the problematic limitations of legalising assisted suicide only for those with a life expectancy of 6 months or less.
- This is particularly poignant for dementia, as by the time a sufferer has a life expectancy of 6 months or less, they are unlikely to have sufficient mental capacity to safely permit a medically assisted suicide.
- Dementia is an increasing concern for many people. It is now the most common cause of death in England and Wales.
- Without a change in the law permitting medically assisted suicide, some people feel forced to take action to end their life themselves. Without controlled legal access to appropriate lethal drugs, alternative methods of suicide are uncertain and prone to failure, possibly leaving the person in a worse state. Some methods are very unpleasant and traumatic for both the person involved and their families.
We need a more compassionate law that allows people like Sir Nicholas Wall to have a good death at a time of their choosing, with appropriate counselling, assistance and company.