Assisted Dying

Baroness Lister of Burtersett

The issue of assisted dying is one of the most controversial to come before the Lords.   On July 18, Lord Falconer will be seeking a 2nd reading for his private members Assisted Dying Bill.  The Bill will allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to request life-ending medication from a doctor, which the patient would self-administer when the patient so decides.  It’s very narrowly drawn and is subject to various safeguards, which no doubt could be strengthened during the Bill’s passage.
I’m writing this blog to signal my support for the Bill because, due to conflicting obligations, I may not be able to be present on the 18th.  I’m pretty sure that if I were terminally ill, I would feel better knowing that I could have some control over my own death.  I have read too many harrowing accounts of the suffering of terminally ill people who have been unable to exercise this most basic of rights not to support this Bill. 
The one thing that has caused doubt in my mind in the past has been the strong opposition of many disabled activists, including some people who I know and whose opinions I value.  Their fear is that such a law would put them at risk and would in effect say that their lives are not of value.  But I believe that this Bill would do no such thing.  And it was therefore very reassuring to receive a briefing from Disabled Activists for Dignity in Dying.  This makes clear that the proposed change in the law ‘is about terminally ill people facing their imminent and unavoidable death, disabled or not.  This isn’t about choosing to die, but rather control over how we die when we are dying’.  It continues ‘as disabled people we do not want terminally ill people to be told they have to suffer against their wishes at the end of life on our behalf’.   It cites surveys showing that between three quarters and four-fifths of disabled adults support the assisted dying for terminally ill people.  
The last attempt in the Lords to introduce such legislation (before I joined) was scuppered by a wrecking amendment, which denied it a 2nd Reading.  Recently the Supreme Court has made clear that Parliament needs to take a view on the issue.  It’s crucial therefore that the Bill should be allowed to proceed so that it can be properly scrutinised and, I hope, eventually effect the change in the law desired by a majority of the population.  I’m sure you too will have strong views either way.

27 comments for “Assisted Dying

  1. maude elwes
    09/07/2014 at 1:01 pm

    From my point of view, this would be disastrous and an open ended excuse to terminate a persons life under the guise of, they wanted us to do this. What a dreadful mistake this would be for all concerned.

    http://bma.org.uk/practical-support-at-work/ethics/bma-policy-assisted-dying

    Look at the horror for the medics concerned in abortion. You think this will be any better. If so, then you should be the ones having to take this step to what can be construed as legalised murder. Remember Shipman.

    • Lord Blagger
      10/07/2014 at 11:33 am

      I agree. Having just been asked 3 times by a hospital the question about letting my mother go, I’ve reasonably strong opinions. Particularly as she is now at home, walking. In addition, it was because an operation had gone wrong.

      I’ve seen in the past a surgeon who was disasterous and made an absolute mess of it bump the patient off with morphine. Not that she was likely to have survived when he’s cocked up and removed vagina, uterus, bladder a kidney and most of their intestines because he didn’t take a swab during the original operation.

      Shipman is relavent. As is Stafford. Both involve the NHS killing off hundreds of people and not knowing it was going on.

    • Paul
      10/07/2014 at 1:31 pm

      I can’t believe you just suggested that Harold Shipman was operating a legal and carefully controlled medical procedure. That’s just obscene. In your head did that seem like a funny idea?

      It’s really serious to some of us, and it’s really unhelpful to try and claim that “legalising assisted suicide” equals “you can just kill people.” It doesn’t, and it matters to me very much. I feel like this matters more to your morals only, it’s an intellectual exercise for you (Abortion! Shipman!) and I really would rather this weren’t the case.

      • maude elwes
        10/07/2014 at 4:27 pm

        @ Paul:

        Please don’t make assumptions regarding why I have the views I do on this matter, as, unlike you, I don’t make assumptions about why you feel you have more instinct and experience than I, or, that my views stem from religion. That is nonsense. My stance comes from self awareness and protection of self and kin. Nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

        Even though my dying friend was indeed a believer, it did not a saint make him. His life was as human as any of us, yet, on his death he wanted to believe there was something other he would experience on passing. And not I, nor any of his friends, wanted to deny him that solace.

        Now to one of my reasons for this view on a personal level. I have a very close personal friend who is a surgeon, having been a medic for many years, and if you believe that Shipman is a laugh then more fool you. It was not meant to be humorous at all, it was a warning. People in the medical profession whom you and many like you are asking to care for them at the close of this life, do not once consider the effect these judgements have on those you require to assist. To me, you come across as selfish, me, me, me, not once having broadened your horizons on what it is you are asking others to do for you. Do you believe they lack all sense of emotion when carrying out these required duties? Or the effect it has on their system. Only a Shipman can do that without thought or emotional questioning.

        • Ann Godridge
          11/07/2014 at 11:48 am

          What Shipman did was against the law. It still would be.

  2. Katie
    09/07/2014 at 7:14 pm

    We should have the right of when we die if we are so ill we don’t want to live !!!

  3. 09/07/2014 at 8:11 pm

    I feel that I want the CHOICE if it should happen to me

    • MilesJSD
      14/07/2014 at 5:56 pm

      and could we say “when” it should happen to’me’
      {what was once ‘me’ when I had full-communication, self-defence, and advocacy-engaging abilities}?

  4. Gillian Macintosh
    09/07/2014 at 8:17 pm

    Measured comment from a Peer. Would hope she can make it on the 18th to support this very important bill’s second reading. Who knows how long it would wait to be brought again should the vote go the wrong way. Time to act now before many more have to choose between their loved ones being prosecuted , or a trip to Switzerland!

  5. MilesJSD
    09/07/2014 at 8:31 pm

    There is underlurking this whole ownership-and-ending-of-life issue a possibly much greater, and even largely-causative Issue
    needing daylight extensive public scrutiny and priority new legislation;

    and that is the Need and Right of every person to improve their existing Health, quite distinctly differently and all-round holisticly from ‘having it improved ‘clinicly’ by a GP curing or masking one’s illnesses’.
    —————-
    As a permanently low-income voluntary carer for a neighbouring permanently low-income caree, I sought the AgeUK free 20 minute legal aid advice

    as to what legal support could there be for us to be individually, and mutually, constructing our individual Holistic LifePlans,
    using up-to-date published Holistic Health Building and Sustainworthy Wellbeing & Lifestyling expert guidances,
    and asking all of the involved authorities to cooperatively compatibilise their respective Support and Care Plans therewithal
    [NHS both GP and Older Peoples Mental Health SSupport vService, Local Government Adult Social Care, the Housing Association Landlords' Tenant's Support, and the Highbury Trust 'Mental Incapacity' Support]

    only to be told
    (“) Holistic Health and your ‘affordably-sustainworthy holistic lifestyle building and lifeplan constructing’ simply do not exist under UK Law (“).

    To which was soon added (“) If you could put up 100 million pounds we would take the case and press it on your behalf in the appropriate Court – (“)

    [we signalled that neither have that scale of money]

    (“) – 200 million might work better; but there again we still couldn’t be sure of winning -(“).
    ——————
    Surely if our individually holistic health maintenance and longest-term wellbeing-building “does not exist”

    then neither do we !

    How much more unsettling therefore
    to sooner or later be made to increasingly insidiously
    suffer irremediable agonies
    without right and affordable access to judicious euthanasia or assisted-suicide?

  6. Lynda Greenhalgh
    09/07/2014 at 9:31 pm

    The law needs to go beyond this and living wills need to be honoured. There is no digity in death or compassion where basic functions such as swallowing are lost due to dementia. Tube feeding is not an option so starvation is the only option. If you have to watch someone die this way perhaps things may be change.

  7. Ann Godridge
    10/07/2014 at 10:41 am

    I was very pleased to read this post, and especially to see that there are some disabled groups speaking up for the right to be helped when dying – if that is our choice. Because of my personal experience, I am dismayed when I see some disabled groups objecting – as if they speak for all disabled people.

    Four years ago my mother in law was dying. She had MS most of her adult life, and the last eight years she spent bedbound. In her last months she was in great pain, and expressed a wish to die. Her GP refused her extra pain medication because of a fear it might hasten her end. She wanted us to research Dignitas for her, but by then she was far too ill to travel.

    I live with lupus, and I have endured a form of trigeminal neuralgia over the past two years. I know that pain relief for many conditions is genuinely inadequate, whatever the claims about improvements in palliative care.

    I understand that research from both Dignitas and from Oregon shows that many people do not in the end choose to die early, but feel reassured knowing they have the option to ask for help.

    Of course it is vitally important that there are safeguards put in place to protect those who are vulnerable, and to ensure that people who have genuine fears about the issue are reassured.

    But the way things are in law at present, we know those who are rich enough and middle class enough to be able to travel to Switzerland can legally have assistance, and those who do not fall into that category cannot. This is fundamentally unjust.

    • LordBlagger
      10/07/2014 at 3:08 pm

      This is fundamentally unjust.
      =========

      Not as unjust as bumping of those who are an inconvenience. Or not telling people you are bumping them off. Or bumping off your mistakes.

      LCP for all eh!

      • Ann Godridge
        11/07/2014 at 11:08 am

        It’s not either/or, is it? Respecting people’s wishes about how they want to die means respecting those who want their lives prolonged too.

        Please don’t just dismiss the experience of those of us who have seen loved ones linger in agony, against their wishes. As I said, I know what severe pain is like. Look up trigeminal neuralgia and you will see it is known as the suicide disease. I am not suicidal, I want to live, but I also know that pain relief is often inadequate. I hope you never find that out for yourself.

        It’s not about bumping off people who are an inconvenience at all – it’s about helping people who have endured enough.

        • LordBlagger
          11/07/2014 at 2:08 pm

          The problem is that for you to get your wish, other people who don’t want that will end up being bumped off. That’s the name of the game.

          See the Liverpool Care Pathway and how people were put on it without even a discussion.

          As I’ve said, I’ve see one error of a surgeon bumped off.

          • Ann Godridge
            11/07/2014 at 4:27 pm

            And yet the Liverpool Care Pathway is used NOW, so your argument really isn’t very rational.

            This particular change would involve discussion, and there will be safeguards.

            What you are arguing is that because people break the law as it is, the law should not be changed.

            I’m sorry, but that really doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

          • maude elwes
            12/07/2014 at 7:29 am

            Absolutely right Blagger. This article in the Telegraph just about sums it up.

            http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/brendanoneill2/100247159/five-things-that-brave-new-world-got-terrifyingly-right/

        • maude elwes
          11/07/2014 at 4:33 pm

          @A Goodridge:

          You know your naivete is astounding. It is time for you to read a lot more and do some serious research into what it is you are pushing for.

          And who is pushing for this? Who are the lobbyists behind it, and what will they gain from its passing. Or, has that missed your consciousness.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYZxuYsWhxA

          • Ann Godridge
            14/07/2014 at 10:40 am

            You are simply ignoring my personal experience, and that of many others.

            I hope you never experience the amount of pain that many of us deal with on a daily basis, but I guess that unless you do you will lack empathy for our position. Because we, and the people who love us are the ones who are pushing for this change.

            You are arguing that the risk that people will be pressured into dying before they are ready matters more than the risk that many of us will die a lingering and painful death.

            I am arguing that persuading people to die or killing them without their consent will still be illegal. No one will have to choose that. There should be protection for the vulnerable, and this would be an opportunity for more protection for them.

            I don’t want to have any power over how you choose to end your life, but you think you should have the right to make that choice for me.

  8. maude elwes
    10/07/2014 at 11:59 am

    I, relatively recently, watched my very dear friend die of rampant, fast eating cancer. He died in hospital after being admitted two days prior. He was given help there at that time. It was a drip with morphine. His entire family was on the ward. We knew from morning what time he would go, That evening at around 10pm his sons held his hands. It was heart breaking to say goodbye and still is to remember. But, his care was exemplary and we were all very grateful to the staff of that place for the endless care they gave him and to all of us, who stayed with him. He did not need to sign anything, we did not need to sign anything.

    The priest came to give him the last rites around 4pm and he was relieved, he returned later on death. It was quiet and he drifted off, just as well as my dog at the vet. And we thanked heaven for his quiet release. There is no need for any further legislation on this matter. It will open us ‘all’ to a horror you need to read about from Holland.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2686711/Dont-make-mistake-As-assisted-suicide-bill-goes-Lords-Dutch-regulator-backed-euthanasia-warns-Britain-leads-mass-killing.html

    Be very careful what you wish for.

    • MilesJSD
      10/07/2014 at 3:08 pm

      Could the ‘dying’, ‘terminal-medical’, or ‘Godly-life priesthood’ experts
      say what the quality of “life” would be for the ‘condemned’,
      under those last days, hours, minutes, and seconds, of continuously morphined ‘care’ ?

      For instance, how “quiet” and “released” and “going to heaven” would he have been aware of and enjoying ?

      “Be very careful what you wish for” –
      such as better legislation ?
      and personal holistic health improvement support service ?
      for those who are still with us,
      and possibly still capable not only of “wishing for”
      but “working for”
      a ‘better-dying & death’
      now very available through a ‘better foundation of holuisticly healthy living-ness’ ?
      maude ?

      • maude elwes
        11/07/2014 at 10:34 am

        @Miles:

        I refer you to the post I put up for Paul.

        And if you are a person who wants life, that has a joy for living at all, no death is a good one. But, a pain less way through it, is as good as it gets. My friends choice on his death bed in respect of believing there may be a reason to rue some of his past life choices is no one’s business but his. Your repeated posts on holistic thought, equally as obsessive and all encompassing as his belief in asking for redemption as he leaves this planet, is no different from his desire to atone. So, look inward before you turn outwards to condemn another.

  9. Fairfax
    14/07/2014 at 11:44 am

    This bill doesn’t go far enough. It wont cover people who aren’t dying but are suffering miserably and can’t do anything about it. It’s our job to help people, denying someone who wants to die but cant do it because of disability is wrong and discrimination. Seems like people think that the process of a heart beating is good enough quality of life. We cannot call ourselves an enlightened society. Fear mongerers. This is a pretty much similar bill than the one in Oregon. While I don’t think it’s enough, I support it nonetheless and as we have seen in Oregon, it’s not even used very much, just having it there brings great peace of mind to people, and shame on those who would deny someone peace.

    • maude elwes
      14/07/2014 at 1:52 pm

      @ Fairfax:

      First of all, if a person is depressed and wants to die, they can do this for themselves. No other party having to take responsibility for their action.

      Secondly: Those who cannot do this for themselves, must be severely disabled in some way which stops them from taking this step, and they are depressed because of that life circumstance. There is a chance their depression may resolve itself, either with medication or a change of heart. In the situation you are asking another person to take the life of someone not terminally ill really comes down to a responsibility of immeasurable emotional turmoil. What right do you have to ask another to do this because they are depressed but not dying.

      If a person knows they have an illness that is going to kill them at some point and they don’t want to face life with the effects of such an illness, then, they must get themselves ready, whilst they are still able, to take their own life before they deteriorate to the extent they are no longer capable of such action. The responsibility lies with them.

      This may sound lacking in compassion to you. However, I feel as strongly as you do in my belief that another should not be persuaded by emotional blackmail to take their life for them.

      Those who are in insufferable pain and their life is no longer possible for it has reached its end, can and do get relief from such life situations, right now, today, as I wrote above of my friend who recently left us.

      And if I were you, I wouldn’t for one minute, trust Oregon or its statistics to base any British law on. The USA are not into compassion in any form of health care. Unless, of course, you have a lot more than six thousand pounds to pay for it, as you would have to do in Switzerland’s Dignitas.

      The rest of the UK public have a right to feel secure should they find themselves in need of medical assistance. A law such as this would remove that security immediately. The well off, of course, could go abroad or to Europe for medical assistance whilst the rest of us would be left to the likes of the cover uppers and those who will do anything for a few extra quid. The duty of government is to the majority of the population, especially when there is already an answer for those who need assistance of this kind.

      And the terrible part of all this is, they know it already exists. So what ‘is’ at the back of this bill?

  10. LordBlagger
    14/07/2014 at 2:42 pm

    You are simply ignoring my personal experience, and that of many others.

    I hope you never experience the amount of pain that many of us deal with on a daily basis, but I guess that unless you do you will lack empathy for our position. Because we, and the people who love us are the ones who are pushing for this change.
    ====================

    No I haven’t. I’ve pointed out my personal experience, which is the NHS bumping people off. They do this now, and they attempted this 3 times this year with my mother. Luckily for her, as a family we’re not so easily conned.

    So how do you square your desire to top yourself, with the protection of people being bumped off? You’ve not addressed that.

    The problem is that by the time you’re at the point of being bumped off, you are very unlikely to be in a position to make a valid judgement.

    • Ann Godridge
      15/07/2014 at 11:56 am

      I haven’t ignored your experience at all, or pushed aside the fears that people have.

      I have just pointed out that the proposed legislation doesn’t make those fears worse – if anything it makes them better. The proposals suggest that the patient themselves would discuss their wishes with two doctors. Now I don’t think doctors are superhuman, I’ve had enough inadequate ones myself, but nor do I think they are all Shipman types.

      What I keep saying is that what happened with your mother was illegal, and would continue to be illegal. So a change in the law that would help people who share my views wouldn’t make the situation any worse for them – and could in fact make it better because it would be possible to discuss out in the open, without people making decisions in secret on behalf of other people.

      I don’t want to top myself, but if I did at the moment I could do it myself. The research in Oregan and numbers from Dignitas show quite clearly that there’s no huge stampede for death – that there are some people who take that route, but that many more are simply reassured by the knowledge that help is available if they wish it.

      We will all die at some point. I’ve lived with chronic illness for more than half my life, and I’ve coped with chronic pain from mild to severe. I know there is every likelihood that I will become more disabled, and less capable of ending my own life. I don’t want to be in a position where I might choose to kill myself when I still have a life that is worth living because of the fear of lingering in pain.

      When you say I am unlikely to be in a position to make a valid judgment, what you are saying is just as unacceptable as those who think they can decide for another person that their life is no longer worth living.

      It’s disrespecting another person’s autonomy in exactly the same way.

  11. Baroness Lister of Burtersett
    Baroness Lister of Burtersett
    14/07/2014 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you to those of you who have submitted thoughtful comments on this highly charged issue (and thanks to Baroness Murphy for her support for what I wrote).
    You might find it helpful to read Baroness Deech’s new blog that explains how private members bills work in the Lords. On Friday Lord Falconer is simply seeking a 2nd reading for his Bill so that it can be properly scrutinised in committee. There is still a long way to go after that. But to get a 2nd reading would send out a powerful message that the House of Lords is now ready to consider such a Bill and debate it in detail.

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