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New year, same problem

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An assisted dying law would be safer for the UK: Investigations would happen before the act and not after

Recently there have been three stories in the local media which concern Dignity in Dying’s campaign. They all highlight an outdated law which is simply not working. This situation will not go away and Parliament needs to act to provide choice to those suffering at the end of life but also, critically, greater protection for patients and their loved ones.


Tamar and Raphael Altman ended their life together


The Oxford Mail reported on a devoted couple Tamar and Raphael Altman who ended their life together. They were Dignity in Dying members and had given evidence to the Commission on Assisted Dying which resulted inLord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill (currently awaiting second reading in the House of Lords). Mr Altman was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2006 and after severely deteriorating over a number of weeks last year, chose to end his life by drinking poison. His wife Tamar ended her life at the same time with him.

I’ve spoken to their son Tai who saw them on their last day and was able to say goodbye. He said he wants people to know that their death was peaceful but that the situation was far from ideal and things would have been different had assisted dying been legal. Mr and Mrs Altman had made it very clear that it was their choice to end their life, and they deliberately sent everyone away so there would be no legal implications.


Mrs Sampford says that her husband of fifty years – who was dying of leukemia – asked her to help him end his life


In Milton Keynes Mrs Sheila Sampford is currently in prison, having plead guilty to murder, and is awaiting to find out if her life sentence is being reduced if deemed a ‘mercy killing’. Mrs Sampford says that her husband of fifty years – who was dying of leukemia – asked her to help him end his life. She then strangled him and called the police straight away to tell them what had happened.


Mr Wayne Norman attempted to end the life of his seriously ill friend


In Birmingham Mr Wayne Norman is currently being investigated after it emerged he attempted to end the life of his seriously ill friend twice by placing a pillow over his head, but couldn’t go through with it after a matter of seconds. His friend died a few weeks after Wayne Norman was charged with attempted murder. Mr Norman by all accounts doesn’t know what will happen to him even though the judge says it appears to be an attempted ‘mercy killing’ rather than an attempted murder.


An assisted dying law would be safer: Investigations would happen before the act and not after


No one beyond those directly involved knows what has happened in these cases, and it is right that they are being investigated – we can’t make assumptions based on media reports.

What we do know is that the majority of the public support a legal framework for someone who is terminally ill and mentally competent to have an assisted death. Investigations would happen before the act and not after. It would provide doctors with the opportunity to review diagnosis, prognosis and mental competence, ensure the decision was free from influence and that the dying patient was made aware of all their care and treatment options – including palliative care.

Opponents of Lord Falconer’s Bill say the current situation is fine – ‘a law with a stern face and a kind heart’. It doesn’t look like it to me.

I hope that Raphael Altman’s final statement will be heeded:


“I believe it is a great pity that our society has not yet evolved to the point where someone making the decision I have made can do so freely, publicly, in the company of their loved ones, and assisted by medical professionals.

I have had a good life, shared with my lifelong beloved partner. My two beloved children have also been enormously important to me. I depart loving my five grandchildren too, regretting only that I shall not see their lives unfolding further.”