Graying Britain looks to assisted suicide reform

September 22, 2009

nitschkeIt used to be an issue just for the terminally ill. Now as populations around the world age, governments are increasingly being confronted with the taboo idea of dying as something people can volunteer to do.

“The demand for the option, if not the practice, is growing rapidly,” said Dr. Philip Nitschke, 61, founder and director of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International.

(Photo: Dr. Nitschke shows his ‘suicide kit,’ 7 May 2009/Stefan Wermuth)

The Australian doctor — nicknamed Dr Death for his work on suicide — is traveling the world to teach people how to end their lives safely with a suicide drug-testing kit.

Nitschke’s is an extreme view, but as the proportion of older people increases rapidly in countries such as the United States, Australia, Japan, Germany and Britain, the suggestion of an option to escape indignity could spur political tremors. Calls for reform and a legal decision in July forced the British government to promise to clarify the law. Draft guidelines are due this month with a final version by next spring.

While assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland and physician-assisted suicide — where a doctor prescribes a lethal dose the patient may choose to drink — is legal in the State of Washington, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Oregon, in Britain helping someone commit suicide is a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Read the whole story here.

See also Belgium has significant hike in euthanasia after law.

Here’s a Reuters video about the death of a quadriplegic Australian man who was granted the legal right to refuse food and water in his nursing home.

What do you think? Is there a “right to die?” Should assisted suicide be legal?

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