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‘Safety net’ in draft Bill on assisted suicide - June-30-12
Source: The Times - Law
Changes that could legalise assisted suicide will be outlined next week in a draft Bill that could go on to be debated by Parliament.
In a renewed push by MPs and campaigners the Bill states that dying people should be allowed to choose when to end their lives in order to achieve a “good death”.
Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, is expected to table a Private Member’s Bill next year after consultation on the proposals, due to be published on Tuesday. Concerns that vulnerable people would be put at risk have been addressed in the draft Bill, which has been put together by the campaign group Dignity in Dying as well as the all-party parliamentary group on Choice at the End of Life.
Two doctors acting independently of each other would have to check that a person was “eligible” to receive assistance to end their life, check that the patient was acting freely, and was fully informed. The Bill also suggests that only the patients themselves should be able to raise the issue with their doctor, the patient must have a terminal illness with a prognosis of only 12 months, must have the mental capacity to make the decision and must take the medication themselves.
It is thought that Tony Nicklinson, who has locked-in syndrome and who has appealed to the High Court for the right to die, would not be eligible. Neither would the author Sir Terry Pratchett who has Alzheimer’s disease and has expressed a preference for ending his life. Neither has been told by a doctor that they have less than 12 months to live.
The draft Bill states that patients must have lived in England and Wales for at least a year. This is to ensure that people do not travel to Britain to be able to die, as is the case with the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Since 2002 nearly 200 Britons have gone to Switzerland to end their lives.
Actively helping someone to kill themselves is a crime under the 1961 Suicide Act but it has been tested by recent cases.. In 2009, Debbie Purdy, who suffers from primary progressive multiple sclerosis, won a legal victory prompting guidelines to be published on the factors for and against prosecution.
The current guidelines, issued by the Director for Public Prosecutions, state that if assisting a suicide is compassionate then a prosecution is unlikely to take place. Public polling has consistently showed that these guidelines are supported but doctors remain largely opposed to legalising assisted suicide. The latest draft Bill states: “Even with universal access to the best in palliative care some people will still suffer and, as such, the quality of their death will be poor. Legal assisted dying is required if we are to prevent those whose suffering cannot be relieved by palliative care from experiencing a bad death.”
Earlier this year the Commission on Assisted Dying, headed by Lord Falconer, reported that the current legal status is “inadequate and incoherent”, distressing for those affected, unclear for health and social care staff and “a challenging burden” on police and prosecutors.
The plans may not convince all. A spokesman from Care Not Killing, said: “I am not surprised that a draft Bill is being pushed forward by a tiny number of people. Parliament has debated this issue on numerous occasions. I suspect that the arguments which we have put forward around safety will continue to be unanswered.”
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