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217 reasons to change the law, and rising…

News from Dignitas this week shows that British assisted deaths at the facility have now well exceeded 200, with 35 Britons having taken this choice already this year. Opponents to a change in the law call this a ‘trickle’ – we call it completely unacceptable because it means that this year alone, 35 seriously ill people have been forced to travel abroad to die, earlier than they would want, in order to have some choice and control over the end of their life.

Whilst Britons travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death often make the headlines, far more people are taking matters in to their own hands at home. Research suggests that ten percent of suicides in this country are by seriously ill people; people who might otherwise be able to have a safeguarded assisted death surrounded by their loved ones under the law we propose. That equates to 560 suicides of seriously ill people in 2010.

There is also a wealth of anecdotal evidence of people assisting loved ones to die here in the UK; individuals ending their lives alone to protect loved ones from prosecution and terminally ill people refusing to eat and drink in order to end their life.

Added to this, research shows that 0.21% of deaths attended by a doctor in the UK are as a result of voluntary euthanasia (a doctor directly ending the life of a patient, at that patient’s explicit request). This equates to approximately 1,000 deaths per year.

We, and many people with experiences of loved ones suffering because of our outdated law would like to see the law changed to allow the choice of assisted dying to terminally ill mentally competent adults. Four such people have spoken out today about how an assisted dying law would have prevented the unnecessary suffering of their loved ones:

  • Kelley’s brother Colin died from cancer in July. Despite excellent palliative care, Colin suffered unbearably for the last week of his life. He would have liked to have had the choice of an assisted death.
  • Pamela’s mother Efstratia stopped eating and drinking as the end of her life approached due to a terminal illness in order to have some control over her death after her doctor refused her the necessary documentation to travel abroad to die.
  • Sheila’s husband Steve was suffering from MS and committed suicide alone, to avoid implicating his family in his decision to end his life.
  • Linda travelled abroad with her husband Peter, who was diagnosed with PSP in 2011. Had assisted dying been legal in the UK Peter would have lived longer, and been able to die in his own home surrounded by his loved ones.

It is time to address the issue. As a society, we must continue to invest in specialist end-of-life care, and commit to improving access to this care for all patients approaching the end of life, regardless of their age, location, illness or any other factor. But even with excellent care, some dying adults still want the choice of an assisted death – people like Efstratia, Colin, Steve and Peter. For them, and for the thousands of other people this issue affects every year, we must change the law.