In 2012, thanks to an award from The Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, disabled actor and activist Liz Carr travelled to the then five countries where assisted suicide and/or euthanasia are legal ie Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg and in the USA, Oregon and Washington State. (Assisted suicide is now also legal in the US state of Vermont and in Canada).
Liz is opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide and wanted to discover for herself how these laws work in practice and how, if at all, their existence changes the culture of a country. She shares her discoveries in a two-part BBC World Service radio documentary entitled, “When Assisted Death is Legal” and which is available to listen to here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p014dkq5
In under an hour of listening time, these programmes provide important new information and perspectives on this most difficult of topics. For example:
* In Luxembourg, Jean Huss and Lydie Err, who co-sponsored the Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia Bill 2012, admitted they were disappointed in the law because they said it failed to include children and those with dementia. When I asked why these groups were not included in their law, they said that they knew it was easier to pass the law initially for terminally ill people only and then, once passed, to increase the law’s application.
* In Oregon, where the law is the blueprint for the Assisted Dying Bill currently before you in the House of Lords, the 2013 statistics reveal that pain is infact not one of the main concerns of people requesting assisted suicide. Instead, the three main reasons are loss of autonomy (93%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable (88.7%) and loss of dignity (73.2%). By comparison, inadequate pain control or concern about it was one of the least important concerns at 28.2%.
* Since this documentary was produced, Washington State’s 2013 annual report has shown that 61% of all those who were supplied lethal drugs in order to commit suicide listed the feeling of being a burden on family, friends or caregivers as one of their main reasons for their request.
* In Switzerland, assisted suicide has been legal since the late 1800’s and one of its most stringent safeguards is that each case is investigated by the police
* The Netherlands are currently debating something called ‘Completed Life’ which would legalise assisted suicide for those 70+ who are tired of life
* In the first 10 years since the Belgium Euthanasia law was enacted, there has not been one case of abuse reported. Is this because there have been no abuses (the BMJ reported in 2010 that only half of all euthanasia cases are properly reported) or because, as in most other countries, reporting and monitoring are self-regulatory?
Liz’s personal conclusion is that the risks to the safety and wellbeing of the majority should continue to outweigh the individual needs of those who want an assisted suicide. She hopes you agree and will vote ‘no’ to the Assisted Dying Bill.