The right to assist suicide

March 20, 2009

Former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt is calling for a change in the law, to allow people to take terminally ill patients abroad for assisted suicide without fear of prosecution.

The law may say it is illegal but in practice, those who do assist suicide abroad are not being prosecuted in practice.

The anomaly has been highlighted lately by the case of multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, who lost a legal bid to force the government to clarify the law on assisted suicide to protect her husband from any future action.

Opponents of any change in the law, like Care not Killing say it would open the floodgates and soon lead to a more general euthanasia law. How long would it be before old and terminally ill people might find themselves being encouraged or even forced to take their own lives?

Hewitt’s bid to change the law is not likely to be successful, despite cross-party support in the House of Commons. Do you think she is right?


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The UK is one would like to think one of the more advanced countries in the European Union when it comes to arguments on human rights. We as a nation take seriously the right of the individual to pursue and lead full constructive lives.
When the ability of that individual to lead a purposeful life is destroyed by terminal illness. Why should that person not have the right to choose the time and place of there own demise?

The arguments against euthanasia still remain largely unresolved. Surely this is the greatest test of a secular society, to recognise an individuals freedom to terminate there own life when faced with the prospect of a prelonged and uncomfortable death?

The ownership of that individuals life and the choice to end it is surely a fundamental human right. When the state eventually makes up it’s mind and allows for the creation of euthanasia clinics terminally ill people in this country will be forced into breaking the law over what is a human right.

Posted by Nick | Report as abusive

Of course, the majority of people in this country privately feel that suicide is every person’s right.

Who owns me, my body, and my life? Am I a possession of, and a slave to whichever religion contols the most voters?
But of course suffering is the fuel of all religious power.

It is disgraceful that so many old people are dying in agony, just because religious leaders have regiments of faithful voters.

Posted by George Spark | Report as abusive

I certainly do not agree with her, for 2 reasons. 1) Human life is valuable. If you allow people to assist in destroying that life you are degrading and devaluing human life. A secularist will talk about the right to do this, that or the other. Well, it is legal to take your own life, so do so, if you wish. But that isn’t what this debate is about. It is about involving others to do your “dirty” work for you. 2) God has created each person’s life and that is what makes each person an individual, special and valuable. What a tragic shame to undermine this precious truth in the name of secularism.

Posted by Simon Beber | Report as abusive

I believe that if a person wishes to die they should be allowed to. There must of course be strict controls in place to prevent the vunerable being bullied into it. If assisted suicide was allowed in England then a proper system could be put into place to prevent abuse of the freedom.

A person’s happiness must be put first: if they are in pain and feel like a burden on the ones they love then who is anyone to force them to live? The last thing you would want is for your loved ones to get into trouble for assisting you.

Posted by Matthew Taylor | Report as abusive

The religious argument is that the sixth commandment says, “Do not kill.” We have laws because we are moral beings with a purpose and answerable to One greater than ourselves.

The pragmatic argument is that in a couple of studies of terminally ill people up to 90% were concerned that their illness was a source of stress for their family and up to 77% were worried about being a burden to their families (Palliat Med 2007; 21; 115).

No action is truly private, our actions send ripples throughout the whole human race.

Posted by Hugo | Report as abusive