We can no longer put up with the status quo on assisted dying

Fears of a 'slippery slope' have so far been unfounded


Last month a Briton travelled to Dignitas. With one doing so every fortnight, there is a danger that these tragic events are becoming commonplace and even accepted. This cannot happen.

Parliament has an opportunity to change the law when the Assisted Dying Bill is debated on 11 September. It would mean that dying people could have the choice in their own country, and the law could protect people better than it can currently.

Bob Cole was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a particularly horrific form of lung cancer. Given three months to live he wanted to have control over the manner and timing of his death. He travelled to Dignitas in Zurich with his friends – sadly a journey he had also taken 18 months ago so his wife Ann could have an assisted death after suffering from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.

I can’t imagine what that journey must have been like, but I do know something about mesothelioma. Bob contracted this when working as a carpenter with asbestos in his teenage years; it lay dormant for many years. It is a disease that is prevalent among many firefighters and I worked alongside people for twenty years who eventually succumbed to the same disease.

Currently one Briton a fortnight is travelling to Dignitas for an assisted death, while over 300 terminally ill people are taking their own lives back home every year. Anyone who assists a loved one to die (including simply accompanying someone abroad) can face up to 14 years in prison. This is why terminally ill people try and end their lives alone, not wanting to risk prosecution for their family or friends.

As a representative of my constituency I also have a duty to protect people. When considering any change in the law it is of the utmost importance that the most stringent of safeguards are put in place. The Assisted Dying Bill includes such safeguards, as it requires two doctors, as well as a Family Court Judge, to assess someone’s diagnosis, prognosis and capacity.

It would only be for terminally ill, mentally competent people who have a prognosis of six months or less. It would also protect people better than the current law, which turns a blind eye not only to people’s suffering, but to the act itself, only taking notice when the person has died. The police then have to investigate post-death, an almost impossible task.

It cannot be emphasised enough that the current law is not working. We are out of step with the overwhelming majority of the public, the Courts who have issued a last warning to parliament to sort out this mess, and other jurisdictions.

Oregon has had an assisted dying law since 1997 and has been working safely; the Oregon Hospice Association has stated that there has been no negative effect on palliative care. There has also been no ‘slippery slope’ with no extension in criteria beyond terminal illness.

The last time the House of Commons debated assisted dying was in 1997 when I was new to parliament. Twenty years later and the House of Lords have again grasped this difficult issue, recognising there is a problem and thinking of the right law for Britain.

We cannot fail to realise the scale of the problem, and we can no longer put up with the status quo which denies dying people choice and control over their own death.

Jim Fitzpatrick is the MP for Poplar and Limehouse.

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6 Responses to “We can no longer put up with the status quo on assisted dying”

  1. Mason Dixon, Autistic

    So, no disability rights organisation has been convinced to support assisted suicide since the issue was last on LFF?

    “Oregon has had an assisted dying law since 1997 and has been working safely; the Oregon Hospice Association has stated that
    there has been no negative effect on palliative care. There has also
    been no ‘slippery slope’ with no extension in criteria beyond terminal

    Apart from the people who were not terminally ill, it’s doing fine of course.

  2. andyrwebman

    Despite the fact that no disability rights organisation has supported AD, the opinions amongst the individual disabled is different. I understand that in one poll, 86% of disabled people were in favour of it (will post links if I find them).

    The activists who run these highly public organisations do not, it seems, speak for the ordinary people on the street they claim to represent. But isn’t that often the way?

  3. will

    tis their life to do with as they choose. . .end of. . .

  4. Mason Dixon, Autistic

    This isn’t news: disabled people found to be just like everyone else? Shocking.

    Campaigners on disability rights, whether disabled themselves or not are in a different position. Disabled people have prejudices about people with other disabilities, just as non-disabled people do, but campaign work means coming into contact with so many different people that you are aware of those differences and therefore the prejudices. The history and the arguments that others can afford to take for granted also become important standing stones rather than background noise. No one comes out explicitly opposing disability rights, they just support causes which are irreconcilable with them. When campaigners ask why decades of work has still not given disabled people equal rights and dignity, we don’t have to look far to find out. In the last 20 years the campaign for assisted suicide has made more progress than disability rights campaigning has managed in 40. It’s successful because people think the disabled and chronically ill have it all and more, therefore it is perfectly safe to entertain removing a legal safeguard that protects virtually everybody else.

    Also, I didn’t name any organisations, so what is ‘highly public’ supposed to mean? How many disability rights organisations can you think of from the top of your head?

  5. andyrwebman

    I admit, can’t think of many without Google. But there always seems t be the head of one organisation or another being given prime time in a newspaper or on the tv. The fact I don’t remember the organisation name doesn’t mean i don’t find the news full of vocal people claiming to speak for that group.

    And in a way,that nameless spokesman tab proves my point to some extent. These people get their platform without prooving they have the support of the people they claim to speak for.

    Actually I think you’re mistaken about why AD has had more success than disability rights. It’s because virtually everyone knows someone who has died tragically, whereas not everyone knows a disabled person.

    Also everyone will die someday and we know most people won’t die in bed in their sleep,therefore everyone has cause for concern about the end of their life-and that includes the disabled too, who are just as susceptible as the able bodied to painful terminal illness. It’s a great leveller and all are concerned with what rights and protections await them.

    In contrast disability doesn’t hit everyone and perhaps much happens to the elderly when it hits the mainstream.

    Finally i think disabled rights tend to cost extra money and effort to implement, i.e it’s not just a matter of legislation to give people the same rights (indeed no extra legislation would be required in a sense) but it’s a case of who will pay for the measures needed to level the playing field. The public is less sympathetic to entitlements than rights in their pure form.

  6. Mason Dixon, Autistic

    I want you to make a mental note between now and Halloween: when you watch the news and a charity spokesperson is on, what does their organisation stand for? From my own memory, the order goes like this: 1. Mental Health 2. Cancer 3. Cerebral Palsy 4. Age 5. Humanitarian Aid 6. Food Banks 7. Citizens Advice 8. Womens Issues other than Cancers 9. Sport 10. Drugs Awareness. Even lumping lots of organisations together into categories, disability rights does not make it into the top ten for broadcast news(and to my despair neither does Autism). This is what I noticed during campaigning on the welfare reform bill- the hoops Sue Marsh and co had to jump through just to get on Newsnight and be insulted by Emily Maitlis and accused of ‘demonising the government’ with even the employment minister looking embarrassed at how one-sided it was.

    But your post mostly doesn’t make sense to me because the majority of people described as terminally ill are themselves profoundly disabled.

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