Would Pro-Assisted Suicide Laws Empower Patients?
The Institute of Ideas -
The question of assisted dying has not been out of the media spotlight in recent months. Although the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was blocked by the House of Lords in 2006, a spate of TV dramas and documentary films have revived the debate about introducing a change to the law to assist terminally ill patients who request the 'right to die'.Former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt's recent campaign to amend the Coroners and Justice Bill, campaigner Debbie Purdy's recent legal victory, and Gordon Brown's announcement that he is firmly opposed, have kept the issue in the headlines.Proponents of assisted dying aim to give people the ability to control their destiny. But many are also concerned that loosening the law would be a slippery slope leading to an increasing prevalence of assisted suicide, and would open the door to euthanasia. Others worry a change to the law would signal a cultural acceptance of suicide more generally.Critics, both secular and religious, oppose any new legislation. They emphasize the value of life and argue for a focus on prolonging life or on palliative care, suggesting that legalizing assisted dying would irretrievably transform the relationship between doctors and patients.Advocates of assisted dying retort that legalization would allow the practice to be publicly regulated and scrutinized.Does the right to die at the time and manner that one wishes follow directly from the right to choose how one lives? Or should suicide always be discouraged? How does the concept of ‘dignity’ fit in to this discussion? And why has the assisted dying debate come to assume such cultural and political importance in recent years?