WHAT WE WANT
My Death, My Decision campaigns for an assisted dying law that would give adults of sound mind, who are either incurably suffering or terminally ill, the option of an assisted death. We would press for any such law to include a robust set of safeguards to satisfy independent medical assessors that someone was fully informed and had made a well-considered and consistent request which was free from coercion.
In many cases, those who request assisted deaths suffer from terminal illnesses. However, we do not believe that there is a strong moral case to limit this option solely to those with six months left to live. The option of an assisted death should be based on someone’s suffering, and life expectancy in and of itself says nothing about this.
You can read our full written submission to the Health and Social Care Committee here. Our submission was part of the 2022/23 public inquiry into Assisted Dying.
The Canadian model of assisted dying has fast become the international benchmark for assisted dying legislation. Therefore, we believe it should be used as an indicative guide for future legislation in England and Wales.
This would mean that in order to qualify for an assisted death someone would have to be:
- At least 18 years old;
- Mentally competent when they request assistance and at their moment of death; and
- Either ‘terminally ill’, suffering from a ‘severe and incurable condition’, or suffering from a ‘severe degenerative condition’
All of these terms already have a well established meaning under the law, or are based upon guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions. For example, the term ‘mental capacity’ refers to a clear test, frequently used by doctors, under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
We also believe that people should only be provided with assistance to die if:
- They have demonstrably understood the nature of their condition and had all their alternative treatment options explained
- They have made a well-considered decision (meaning it is not sudden or on the spur of the moment)
- They have consistently expressed that it is their wish to die
- There is no reasonable evidence that they have been coerced into seeking an assisted death.
Alongside these conditions we believe there should be robust safeguards. These could be drawn from countries which have already legalised assisted dying, or from the current protections we have in place for when someone refuses life-saving treatment or makes a lasting power of attorney. For example, they could include:
- Two independent medical assessors would have to be satisfied that someone met the relevant qualifications for an assisted death
- Someone must be provided with the opportunity to receive counselling before being assisted to die
- Any authorised person who assisted another person to die must report their involvement to an independent oversight council, and the substances provided must be accounted for afterwards.
In the event that assisted dying became legal we would expect the actual provision of assistance to be provided by a specialist set of practitioners, not by GPs, general doctors, or friends and family members. In any event we would support the right of any medical professional conscientiously to opt out of assisted dying.
WHY WE DON’T SUPPORT A SIX MONTH RESTRICTION
There are predominantly two models of assisted dying around the world. The first, most notably found in Oregon and some other parts of the United States and some states in Australia, only provides assistance to those who have six or fewer months left to live. The second, of which Canada is a prime example, provides assistance for people with both terminal or intolerable conditions.
My Death, My Decision and the UK Assisted Dying Coalition campaign for the second form of assisted dying.
We do so for several reasons:
- We believe that there is a strong moral case to enable those who are intolerably suffering and have no prospect of improvement, to choose the manner and moment of their own death. The suffering of people with incurable conditions is no less severe than the suffering of those with terminal illnesses. If anything, it’s worse, since they will face longer periods of pain without reprieve.
- Legalising assisted dying for a very select number of people will fail to help those who are likely to need assistance the most. Without an inclusive change in the law, people with incurable conditions would still be forced to break the law by travelling to Switzerland, or lawfully end their lives through the inhumane prospect of starving themselves to death or other means.
- Limiting the option of an assisted death to those with six months left to live would be discriminatory. People who suffer in the same way, and seek the same degree of control over the end of their lives, but happen not to be terminally ill, still deserve to be treated with the same degree of dignity and respect in the eyes of our law
- 59% of UK doctors think assisted dying should be available to both those who are terminally ill and intolerably suffering. Doctors freely admit that they cannot accurately predict when someone only has six months left to live, but even if they could, there is no principled reason why someone is more deserving of a choice to end their life when they have six months left to live, rather than seven or eight – or even the torment of years of suffering.
- In the final six months of life, people with degenerative brain conditions, such as dementia, often lack mental capacity and would be unable to request assistance. If someone has the certain knowledge that they face irreversible decline, we don’t believe a limited law should force them to suffer until the bitter end.
- An abundance of international evidence shows that assisted dying laws are most effective when they respect the choices of both those who are terminally ill and intolerably suffering. That’s why the vast majority of countries where assisted dying is legal do not have a six-month rule.