The musings of a final year medical student

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Assisted dying

On 11th September 2015, MPs had the first formal debate in 20 years as to whether we should legalise an assisted dying programme. Sadly, MPs voted mostly against the bill, and it has not been passed. 

The UK Assisted Dying Bill was based closely on the law in the US state of Oregon, where assisted dying has been legal since 1997. This law would have allowed patients who are mentally competent with a terminal illness and prognosis of 6 months or less the possibility of an assisted death by self administration of prescribed drugs. Patients who had requested an assisted death would be reviewed by two doctors and a High Court judge. If all three agree, the request would be granted.

I totally understand that this is a very difficult and controversial issue. However, I fundamentally believe that if we have the right to life, we also have the right to death. If one's government makes it illegal for you to end your life, then who does your life belong to? Does it belong to the governing body of the country you live in?

I am an atheist. I can appreciate that some religious people heavily oppose the Assisted Dying bill, and I respect their religion and their choice. But I, and other non-religious NHS patients would like to have the option. As much as MPs are meant to represent our views, it seems like the opposers of the bill have the loudest voice. Terminally ill patients cannot patrol the streets or canvas people to believe their cause; they are the silent supporters of a really important law. 

I have very little knowledge about death. I have never seen someone die. My only experiences have been working at an old people's home for 18 months, work experience in a palliative care unit and witnessing my Grandpa lose his dignity and his life to leukaemia. I have seen patients in an undignified, vegetative state. No communication, no proper nutrition, no vision and no movement. Death in a hospital bed or in a residential home is not dignified. I cannot speak for those patients, I have no idea if they would have wanted an assisted death if they had had the choice. But the current ordeal of a 'natural' death is not pleasant. 

The main opposing reasons behind MP opposition was that there is a risk patients would be coerced to end their life by friends or family. Certainly, this is a real and important problem to address. However, the fact that the bill involves approval of two doctors and a high court judge leads me to believe that if there was any coercion involved it would be identified, and thus the patient would not be granted an assisted death. The doctors and legal staff would have to be rigorous and thorough in their decisions. 

Ultimately, I believe that this is my life. It belongs to me. I should have the choice of whether I want to live or die. To me, the meaning of life is to be happy. And if ever there would come a time where I had an incurable, extremely painful and demoralising disease, I would want to have the choice of an assisted death. 

If you support the assisted dying bill, please support the campaign Dignity in Dying

Apologies that this blogpost isn't as cheery as my other ones! Today I am catching up on my lecture notes and enjoying a nice relaxing day at home. Hopefully I will finish all my jobs today and then be able to go shopping tomorrow! 


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