About Assisted Dying

Public Support

Friends at the End works to legalise Assisted Dying. For over 30 years, survey after survey has shown that people in the UK support the view that a doctor should be able to assist a patient, with a terminal or incurable disease, to end their life at the patient’s request.

The 34th British Social Attitudes Report survey confirmed that 78 per cent of respondents believed that doctors should be allowed to do so.

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“There is nothing noble about excruciating pain and I think we need as a nation to give people the right to decide their own fate.”
– Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury

We support the right of every individual to die at a time and place of their choosing. This can be a very emotive debate with powerful and sincerely held beliefs on both sides. We fully respect the views of others, equally informed by compassion and concern. Here we set out some of the reasons why we may take different views;

Choice

As soon as we become adults we are able to make our own life choices, for good reasons, bad reasons or no reason at all, without interference.  We have the right to accept, refuse or discontinue medical treatment. We should have the same right to decide when and where our lives end.

Choice in a civilised society should include access to high quality palliative and hospice care, the right to specify in advance what treatment should be withheld or when it should be withdrawn and, for the terminally ill and incurably suffering, the right to request medical assistance to die at a time and in a manner of their choosing.

Limited Options

If you are receiving curative treatment you are allowed to request that it be stopped. Similarly, you can request that curative treatment does not start.

However many people do not have this option and the only choice they are left with is death from dehydration and starvation, they have no other means of securing an end to their suffering. We believe that being forced to refuse food and fluids is not a dignified, humane and compassionate way to die. The process can take anything from a few days to weeks and is often painful and protracted.

Many attempt to end their life with failed suicides, which is distressing for the person, their loved ones and the emergency services who attend the scene.

There is an increasing number of UK citizens travelling abroad to have an assisted death. People must be physically able to travel and afford the costs of such arrangements, roughly £10,000. Organisations such as Dignitas and Eternal Spirit in Switzerland, are struggling to cope with the demand from overseas citizens, requesting the peaceful death promised by them. The UK is outsourcing dying and bad deaths to compassionate countries and this must stop.

Palliative Care

Even with the best palliative care,  many dying people cannot have their suffering adequately relieved. Pain is not the only issue. Many people find severe weakness and total dependence on others the most distressing thing to bear. The final stages are often treated by increasing pain-killers such as morphine and by giving sedatives which induce sleep, this slides into coma and death — known as ‘terminal sedation’ — and often the patient takes no part in these decisions.   Research shows that during 2008-2009 16.5% of all deaths in the UK took place after continuous deep sedation.

The experience of terminal sedation is simply not the same as going from clear mind and body earlier in the course of an illness, to a loss of consciousness then death.  Assisted Dying avoids a whole period of suffering, of loss of consciousness and competence . It’s a very different experience for patients and for families.

Doctors who truly want to do their best for their patients, by responding to a request to end their suffering are forbidden from doing so. Yet many surveys have shown that some already help their patients to die and risk their professional careers by doing so. This help to certain patients takes place out with a legal framework to regulate or record. Increasingly progressive countries around the world opt to legislate responsibly for Assisted Dying in the interests of transparency and accountability. We believe UK should do so too.

The Law

In England & Wales under the Suicide Act 1961 and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act 1966 it is a crime to encourage or assist suicide.

In Scotland, there is no legislation governing suicide or assisted suicide. The legislation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland does not apply to Scotland.

In Scotland, we assume Assisted Dying is illegal based on statements from the Lord Advocate that he/she would regard such actions as deliberate killing and thus a charge of murder or culpable homicide would be brought.

The Lord Advocate has refused to produce guidelines (England & Wales have the Director of Public Prosecutions guidelines) on when he/she would/would not prosecute. Thus we must simply wait and see what the Lord Advocate chooses to do – and how the courts respond – after the fact.

Scotland has one piece of case law on Assisted Dying, that of Gordon Ross which arguably muddied the waters further when Lord Carloway stated, ‘it is not a crime to assist in a suicide’ and this includes ‘taking persons to places where they may commit, or seek assistance to commit, suicide’.

Legal experts have described the legal landscape in Scotland as ‘shameful’ ‘should embarrass any legal system’ and showing an ‘alarming lack of clarity’.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Assisted Dying can be found here.