Monday, 9 January 2012
I feel obliged this week to return to a topic on which I feel strongly and on which I have written on several previous occasions.
After much deliberation, the independent Commission on Assisted Dying, whose members include several prominent peers and medics, wants GPs to be able to prescribe lethal doses of medication for dying people to take themselves.
Naturally, certain conditions and safeguards need to be put in place as part of all this, but it is nevertheless a step in the right direction. It cannot be right that human beings are deprived of the right to decide for themselves when their lives have become intolerable; to decide that they can no longer endure pain and suffering and then to have it decided for them that their lives are so sacred that they must endure until the very last moment. This is cruelty of the first order. It would be illegal to inflict it on an animal.
The final report of the Commission, chaired by the former Labour minister Lord Falconer, concludes: “There is a strong case for providing the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill people." It call for the facility to be restricted to those judged to be in the final year of life, for two doctors to be required to assess the case and for the patient to have clear mental capacity to understand what is proposed.
Should I fit these criteria, I would be given the means with which to self administer the lethal dose myself. This is as it should be because this is assisted dying, not euthanasia.
Interestingly the BMA refused to take part in the Commission's investigation. I say 'interestingly' because I find it hard to understand why they should refuse. Doctors already accept 'Do Not Resuscitate' instructions. They already allow patients to self administer potentially lethal doses of pain killers. They allow patients to starve themselves to death.
On Friday I am attending the funeral of a 91 year old relative who simply had had enough of her life and decided that she was no longer interested in maintaining it by eating and drinking. She was allowed to sink into unconsciousness and pass peacefully away. She was frail, and in reasonable health but had no quality of life. The nursing home she was in took reasonable care of her, but she was in God's waiting room and knew it.
I am not suggesting that there was a case for her to end it all. Indeed as she had dementia, the proposed rules would not have allowed it anyway. What I trying to say is that the doctors allowed her to go, so for the same doctors to be opposed to assisted death seems to me to be hypocrisy.
I have no expectation that this matter will be resolved in the short term, but I sincerely hope that it may be resolved in time for it to be of use to me should I find myself in the unfortunate position in the, hopefully, distant future to need to make this difficult decision. It is, after all, my life so why should it not be my decision?
In the meantime, at least the debate is taking place...