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Is the United Kingdom heading towards assisted suicide?

Publié le : 21 July 2014

On Friday 18 July, a draft bill aimed at legalising assisted suicide in England and Wales was the subject of an important debate before the House of Lords, the Upper House of Parliament. On the initiative of Lord Falconer, this bill aims to authorise assisted suicide for adults with less than six months to live provided that approval has been granted by two doctors. The bill is stirring up a great deal of commotion in the United Kingdom and could be supported by 80% of the British population.  

In The Independent, Raymond Tallis, Emeritus Professor at the School of Geriatric Medicine in Manchester and a supporter of this draft bill, summed up the situation in three words: “compassion, choice and safety“. He believes that “the law at present lacks compassion for that significant number of dying people who have intolerable suffering which cannot be relieved by palliative care“.


However, numerous medical organisations oppose this draft bill including Dr. Mark Potter, Chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA): “the BMA remains firmly opposed to legalising assisted dying“. During the annual conference of the BMA, he explained that, “this issue has been regularly debated and recent calls for a change in the law have been rejected“. 


Some opponents to the bill fear “that, eventually, the law will extend to other categories of people such as the handicapped, depressed or those suffering from dementia, even if the law currently under debate only concerns the terminally ill“. Thus, in The Guardian, Penny Pepper, who is handicapped and suffers from a chronic, painful disease, explained why she opposes the bill: The law, she says, “puts us on a dangerous road of devaluing handicapped people“. The other argument put forward focuses on “the pressure that the family might exert to encourage the patient to opt for assisted suicide“. This argument has also been cited by the Archbishop of Canterbury: if assisted dying were to be legalised, “it would be extremely naive to believe that many elderly people who are ill-treated and neglected, like many severely handicapped people, would not be pressurised into ending their lives“. 


Finally, in the Daily Mail, Dutch Academic, Professor Theo de Boer, confirmed his change of opinion. In favour of euthanasia in 2002, Professor de Boer has sent the following message to the United Kingdom: “Don’t make the same mistake as we did“. Referring to the increasing number of assisted suicides in the Netherlands, between 2008 and 2014, the number of assisted suicides has doubled (6000 in 2014), he added that: “Legalising assisted suicide is a slippery slope heading towards the generalised practice of murdering the sick“. 

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