Jul 052015
 

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.

Jul 052015
 

Wolverhampton South MP Rob Marris’s Assisted Dying Bill is going to be debated and voted upon in what’s known as it’s Second Reading in the House of Commons on September 11th.  This is the first time in 18 years that MPs will have had the chance to vote on an assisted suicide (AS) law.

 

We want to make sure that MPs vote ‘NO’ and kill the bill on September 11th. see also info about the lobby on 14th July

 

We need to talk to our MPs about our fears and concerns about such a bill, to find whether they’re for or against it and if the latter, we desperately need them to attend on 11th September to vote against this bill.

 

This information sheet is the legal one.  It details the current legal situation and looks at the details of these assisted dying bills.

 

The current situation

 

Those of us who oppose a change in the law, believe the current situation is adequate.  Under the 1961 Suicide Act, killing yourself is not illegal but encouraging or assisting another person’s suicide is and can lead to up to 14 years imprisonment.  The current law acts a deterrent to malicious or manipulative assistance with suicide.

 

But the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) also has a discretion not to prosecute if, for example, it is clear that assistance has been given reluctantly / after serious soul-searching or for ‘wholly compassionate’ reasons to ill or disabled people.  It is this discretion that has allowed the high profile assisted suicide cases to avoid prosecution.

 

There are a list of factors considered when deciding if the law has been broken but in reality, if a person has made it clear that they want to end their life by an assisted suicide for health / impairment reasons and a friend or family member aids them (as opposed to a medical professional) then whilst they may be investigated, it is unlikely that they will be prosecuted.  Infact less than 20 cases a year throughout the whole of England and Wales cross the desk of the DPP and few of them call for prosecution.  And yet apparently this law isn’t working?

 

But laws send out messages – when something is legalised, it acquires the stamp of social approval.  An assisted suicide law says, in effect, that if you are terminally ill, ending your life is an option that it is appropriate to consider.

And by putting assisted suicide into the hands of the medical profession, it’s feared it could become a treatment option.

 

Critics of the current law say that it’s unfair for families and friends to have to help an ill or disabled person to end their lives and not know in advance whether or not they’ll be investigated and charged.  We say the illegatlity of the assisted suicide acts as a deterrent and ensures it is not the easy option.

 

Supporters say that because it’s not currently legal for a Dr to assist, that people have to kill themselves with amateur means which may fail.  We say that everyone has the means to commit suicide and why should ill / disabled people be given a 100% successful method when over 90% of suicides for everyone else actually fail?

 

They say that dying people may have no choice but to take themselves off to somewhere like Dignitas before they’re ready to die but while the person is still well enough to travel – and that travelling to Dignitas is costly and difficult for those involved.  We say that rather bringing assisted suicide to the masses and make it an easy option,  that there should be improvements to end of life care for all people to ensure everyone can have a peaceful and pain free end to their life.

 

Supporters say they want the right to die.  We believe the right to die already exists for each and every one of us. What those wanting a change in the law are actually asking for is the right for someone else to kill them.

 

Instead of a discretionary power where very few assisted suicides are ever prosecuted, supporters of a change in the law want to lay down in advance, the situations when it is okay for a Dr to assist a person to end their life.  We say the law as it is enables the choice of a few whilst protecting the many.

 

What’s in the Assisted Dying Bill?

 

At the time of writing the text of the Marris bill is unknown but it’s likely that it will be very similar to the Lord Falconer Assisted Dying Bill that Not Dead Yet UK protested against in the previous Parliament. (Lord Falconer has also re-introduced his Assisted Dying Bill into the House of Lords so even if we defeat the Marris Bill in the Commons, we will still have to contend with Falconer at some point in the future!).  Firstly they’re calling it an assisted dying and not an assisted suicide bill.  They say it’s because it’s only for those who are actually dying but we say it’s to make the term more palatable, after all, the current campaigning group Dignity in Dying used to be called the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

 

If passed, the ‘assisted dying bill’ would license doctors to supply lethal drugs to:

  • terminally ill patients with less than 6 months to live and who have,
  • a settled intent to end his or her life
  • the capacity to make such a decision and
  • are making the request voluntarily, on an informed basis and without pressure or duress

 

Two doctors are required to certify that these criteria have been met and their decision is to be referred to a judge of the High Court for confirmation.  There is no requirement for a psychological assessment to assess capacity.  The doctors do not have to be your regular doctors.  If approved, the person would be supplied with the lethal drugs to enable them to commit suicide.

A medical professional (but not necessarily a doctor) would remain with the person until they died but they cannot help them to take the drugs – to do so would cross the line between assisted suicide and euthanasia.

 

Many people who support this bill believe it is to assist those who cannot kill themselves to have the same opportunity as everyone else but in fact, if someone cannot physically ingest or do the final act themselves would not technically come under this bill.

 

The proposed law – unsafe to change

 

Critics of the bill are meant to be reassured by ‘safeguards’ to protect ‘the vulnerable’ from abuse – and ultimately murder.  So what safeguards exist to protect someone from being killed without their fully informed consent?

 

The proposals list a number of qualifying criteria for assisted suicide – such as settled intent, capacity to make the decision and freedom from pressure – but they do not translate these criteria into concrete safeguards.  Instead, they

propose that these issues should be dealt with by the Secretary of State in codes of practice AFTER Parliament has agreed to change the law.  SO MPs don’t even know the full extent of what they’d be voting for on September 11th. In effect, the issue of safeguarding has been side-stepped and Parliament is being asked to sign a blank cheque.

 

After concern about lack of safeguards was raised when the House of Lords debated the Assisted Dying Bill, Lord Falconer added a proposal that when a doctor assessing a request for assisted suicide considers that it meets the designated criteria, the decision should then be referred to a judge of the High Court for confirmation.  The bill does not, however, require the Court to undertake any investigations of its own and as such, the role envisaged for the Court is little more than that of a rubber stamp.  It is expected this will also be included in the Marris Bill.

 

Many aspects of a request for assistance with suicide go beyond a doctor’s professional competence.  It may be fair to ask a doctor to confirm that a patient is terminally ill, to offer a prognosis and to advise on possible treatments.  But most doctors are in no position to judge whether a request for assistance with suicide derives from a settled wish or whether there are any pressures operating in the background that could be influencing the request.  In today’s world of busy multi-partner GP practices and declining home visits doctors often know little of their patients beyond what they pick up in the consulting room and they do not have the time or resources to set about investigating such matters.

 

The Oregon Experience

 

The Oregon Death with Dignity Act has been the blue print for the Falconer Bill and will be no doubt for the Marris Bill too.  Here are some of the problems with the Oregon law:

 

  • Individuals seeking assisted suicide can resort to doctor shopping- visiting doctor after doctor until one agrees to write the lethal prescription.

 

  • Patients are often misdiagnosed as terminally ill with less than 6months to live when in fact they live for months and even years beyond what was originally expected.

 

  • Individuals with a new illness or disability are often faced with depression, which requires more than Oregon’s 15 day waiting period to be treated.

 

  • Many patients experience outside pressure to commit assisted suicide, which often goes unnoticed and unpunished.

 

  • Individuals are often portrayed as a burden on their families and are made to feel that their life is not as valuable.

 

  • In 2007, none of the individuals that requested assisted suicide in Oregon were referred for a mental health evaluation.

 

  • Under Oregon law, depressed or mentally ill individuals can still be considered “competent” to request assisted suicide.

 

  • Under Oregon law, doctors that fail to report or file incomplete or inaccurate reports face no penalties.

 

  • All records are sealed and all underlying data is destroyed after the annual report is published.

 

  • The 2013 Oregon statistics reveal that the three main reasons given for requesting an assisted suicide 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%.

 

  • Assisted suicide is also legal in Washington State. The 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.

 

  • 64 year old Barbara Wagner was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. Her oncologist prescribed chemotherapy to slow cancer growth, reduce symptoms, and extend her life.  The Oregon Health Plan however would not cover the costs for her chemotherapy prescription, but sent her a letter saying they would instead pay for assisted suicide drugs.

 

 

May 142014
 

More and more terrible evidence is emerging of what is really happening under the guise of Belgium’s euthanasia law. So we are calling on the Belgian Parliament to suspend its law permitting euthanasia and to conduct a full and transparent review of the practices carried out in its name.

If you agree that Belgium should suspend the practice of euthanasia until more information is available about what is really going on please sign our petition to the Belgian Parliament.

Background information

Belgium’s euthanasia law has now been extended to children of any age. Children under the age of eight barely have a concept of death and many teenagers especially if they are in a typically ‘rebellious’ frame of mind might not have a real grasp of the consequences of their actions.

Evidence now shows that older people with dementia are being euthanized in Belgium even though there can be no question of someone with dementia giving full and informed consent to their deaths.

 

There are other illegal practices happening in Belgium such as nurses performing euthanasia – and massive failure to report by doctors carrying out euthanasia (in 47% of cases). The leading euthanasia doctor in Belgium is also the president of the commission which is supposed to regulate the practice of euthanasia. This is a clear conflict of interest. He has had a complaint against him after he euthanized a depressed mother with no other illness.

Belgium saw a five-fold increase from 235 in 2003 (the first full year) to 1,432 in 2012.

The country is increasingly known not just for the steady annual rises in deaths, but also for the increasing proportion of deaths not prompted by terminal illness, including the notable 2013 cases of deaf-blind, transgender and depressed people being euthanized.

We are calling on the Belgian Parliament to suspend its law permitting euthanasia and to conduct a full and transparent review of the practices carried out in its name.

The link to the petition run by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe is HERE 

Given that the assisted suicide Bill is soon to return for another reading at Westminster we urge all to make your feelings known about the impact of unlawful killing by any name in this country, and in others.

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