Thursday, 16 August 2012

The case for assisted dying

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

Tony Nicklinson
This afternoon, Tony Nicklinson (pictured, right), who is paralysed from the neck down as the result of a stroke in 2005, lost his High Court case to allow doctors to end his life without risk of prosecution. Announcing his intention to appeal against the ruling, Nicklinson said that he is "devastated" and "saddened that the law wants to condemn me to a life of increasing indignity and misery".

Nicklinson's is the latest case in which appeals for the right to die have been rejected by British courts, and comes against the background of a long-running campaign for a change in the law. Writing in the forthcoming September issue of New Humanist, the Professor of Geriatric Medicine Raymond Tallis, who also serves as Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, makes a compelling case for why a change in the law is badly needed.
"The case for a law to legalise the choice of physician-assisted dying for mentally competent people with terminal illness, who have expressed a settled wish to die, is very easily stated. Unbearable suffering, prolonged by medical care, and inflicted on a dying patient against their will, is an unequivocal evil. What’s more, the right to have your choices supported by others, to determine your own best interest, when you are of sound mind, is sovereign. And this is accepted by a steady 80-plus per cent of the UK population in successive surveys.
Even so, after decades of campaigning, the law has yet to change. How can this be? The answer is simple: there has been a highly organised opposition by individuals and groups, largely with strong religious beliefs that forbid assistance to die."
Tallis goes on to draw on the story of Dr Ann McPherson, his predecessor as Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, whose excruciating death from pancreatic cancer that would have been unnecessary had she been able to end her life at a time of her choosing. Ultimately, Tallis's conclusion is a stark one – because of the religious objections of a minority, individuals like McPherson are forced to endure needless suffering. It is time for a change in the law, and polls frequently show that such a change would receive widespread public support.

The new issue is out next Thursday, 23 August, but in the meantime we've put Tallis's piece online. It's highly recommended reading.
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