The Assisted Dying Bill
My main reason for introducing the Assisted Dying Bill is simple. It’s a straightforward question of choice and dignity: with appropriate, strong safeguards, terminally ill adults of sound mind should be legally allowed to choose to have assistance to end their own lives.
I value life, and I do understand that some people believe very deeply that ending one’s own life is always wrong. Nevertheless, the depth and sincerity of their belief should not mean that they deny choice to those of us who do not share their beliefs.
Under my Bill, before assisted dying would be allowed, two doctors and a High Court judge would have to be satisfied of the requesting patient’s eligibility – i.e. mentally competent adults, terminally ill (prognosis of six months or less), informed of the alternatives. The Bill would allow such a patient to self-administer medication to end their own life; but any medical person would on the grounds of conscience be able refuse to be involved.
The Bill would not allow euthanasia, because it does not allow anyone other than the patient to administer life-ending medication. Nor would it allow assistance for a person with a non-terminal disability. Nor assistance for a patient with dementia – because dementia is not a terminal illness, and a patient with later stage dementia would not pass the “of sound mind” test.
There is no evidence that, if this law be passed, vulnerable people will be made to feel they are a burden and will therefore be pressured to take this option. In Oregon, where there has been a similar law for 17 years, every such death has been and is investigated, and there is absolutely no evidence of such pressures being brought to bear.
Properly resourced palliative care should be much more widely available, to help make the terminally ill comfortable in a caring environment. Evidence from the European Association of Palliative Care (report, 2011) is that there is no connection between the availability, or not, of assisted dying and the level of palliative care.
"I am promoting choice - not death" Rob Marris
The current legal position is a mess. At present the law denies dying people the choice of a safe, legal assisted death, whilst turning a blind eye to home suicides, and to technically illegal actions by doctors, and to Dignitas deaths. Last summer the Supreme Court issued Parliament with a final warning, to address the problems. The Director of Public Prosecutions has done her best, issuing guidelines as to when it is, or is not, in the public interest to prosecute. However, in a democracy it is elected representatives who should make the laws, not an unelected civil servant.
Safeguards which are in place whilst someone is alive will provide far greater protection than the currently sporadic, retrospective investigations by a coroner after someone is dead. If the Bill were enacted, decisions around assisted dying would rightly be subject to intense scrutiny before a patient died.
The current law does not accord with social attitudes. It is not working. It does not have the confidence of much of the public nor of the courts. As an MP, as a lawyer, and as an individual, I am convinced that we can and should allow better choice for dying people. At present, the law makes no distinction between the suicide of a vulnerable person, due to depression or problems in their personal life; and the choice of a well-informed terminally-ill mentally competent adult to decide to control the manner and timing and location of their own death by their own hand – choice and dignity.
If you wish to contact Rob Marris about his Private Member's Bill on Assisted Dying, please contact
020 7479 7730