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A "strong case" for offering assisted death to terminally ill, says UK report

An independent panel funded by the author Terry Pratchett criticised the current legal status of assisted suicide as “inadequate and incoherent”.

The author Terry Pratchett whose funding helped set up the commission.
The author Terry Pratchett whose funding helped set up the commission.
Image: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

AN INDEPENDENT panel of experts in the UK has said that euthanasia should not be permitted, but that there is a “strong case” for offering terminally ill people the option of assisted death.

The Commission on Assisted Dying published its report on the issue today in which it says that it would be possible to devise safeguards and new legislation for assisted suicide.

It described the current legal status of assisted suicide in the UK as “inadequate and incoherent”.

The panel was funded by the author Terry Pratchett, who recently presented a documentary on assisted suicide, and businessman Bernard Lewis.

The commission said that three criteria must be met before a person could proceed with requesting an assisted death:

  • They are aged over 18 and are diagnosed with a terminal illness
  • They are making a voluntary choice expressing their own wishes which are not unduly influenced by others
  • They have the mental capacity for making a voluntary and informed choice and that their decision making abilities are not impaired by mental health problems such as depression

Safeguards

In addition, the report identifies eight principles to be considered if devising safeguards for a system of assisted suicide, including ensuring the person has been fully informed of all other treatment and end of life care options, and that the opinions of two independent doctors have been considered.

It also says that a system should be in place to ensure the safe transportation of the lethal medication, and assisted deaths are correctly recorded.

The commission says that an “open discussion about death and dying” should be promoted as part of a framework for assisted dying, and that social support and protection must be provided for more vulnerable people.

Certain criteria must also be met when diagnosing a terminal illness, it says, adding that it does not believe that “any criterion based on ‘unbearable’ or ‘unrelievable’ suffering should be included in potential assisted dying legislation as we are concerned that a criterion based on suffering would be too unclear and subjective for doctors to assess.”

The commission also recommends that people administer the fatal dose of medication themselves, rather than it being administered by a doctor. Instead, the doctor would prescribe the medication only:

The Commission is not recommending that any form of euthanasia should be permitted, therefore the patient him or herself would need to be able to take the action that will cause their death, as a clear expression of voluntariness.

Appropriate practical support to take the medication should be provided if it is required by a terminally ill person with a physical impairment, but this could not take the form of another person administering the medication on their behalf.

Criticism

Responding to the commission’s report today, the Church of England issued a statement saying that the panel had excluded “anyone with a known objection to assisted suicide” and that the law regarding assisted suicide should be left as it is.

Bishop James Newcome said it was unsurprising that the group had found effective safeguards to avoid the abuse of any new legislation regarding assisted suicide.

He added that the commission “has singularly failed to demonstrate that vulnerable people are not placed at greater risk under its proposals than is currently the case under present legislation.”

Read the Commission on Assisted Dying’s report in full (pdf) >

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