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Key questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about assisted dying.

  • How will assisted dying impact the relationship between doctors and patients?

    Polling shows that 87% of people say an assisted dying law would increase or have no effect on their trust in doctors.

    Changing the law would allow a dying person to have open and honest conversations with their doctors about assisted dying. This is currently impossible within the law.

  • Can we be sure assisted dying is not the start of a ‘slippery slope’?

    Fears of a slippery slope are not backed up by evidence. Where assisted dying is legal there have been no cases of abuse and no widening of the law. Assisted deaths in Oregon account for just 0.4% of deaths.

    Belgium and the Netherlands are sometimes cited as examples of the ‘slippery slope’. But these jurisdictions have always had much broader laws than the one we campaign for.

    The current law contains no safeguards to protect dying people who want to control their death. An assisted dying law would protect against a ‘slippery slope’, not encourage one.

  • Can palliative care work alongside assisted dying?

    Yes and it has been the case in Oregon where the Oregon Hospice Association acknowledges that assisted dying and palliative care can work together. It now has a neutral stance on the issue. Conversations around death and dying have increased since the law changed there.

    When somebody requests assisted dying doctors have to inform them of all their palliative care options.

    We support efforts to improve access to high quality palliative care.

  • Can we know if a person has capacity to end their own life?

    Capacity already plays a key role in end-of-life decision-making. People with capacity can refuse treatment, even if that is likely to result in their death.

    The Mental Capacity Act (2005) means there is a legal framework that exists to support doctors to assess capacity.

    If a doctor doubted a person’s capacity they would have to refer them to another professional, such as a psychiatrist.

    The Royal College of Psychiatrists have a neutral stance on assisted dying.

  • Can you support assisted dying if you are religious?

    Polling shows that 79% of religious people support a change in the law on assisted dying.

    Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, both support assisted dying.

    Interfaith Leaders for Dignity in Dying (IFDiD) is a group of faith-leaders campaigning for a change in the law.

  • Does the evidence from Oregon justify support for assisted dying in the UK?

    The current law in the UK does not work. Evidence from Oregon shows that an assisted dying law is safe and practical.

    Assisted dying has been legal in Oregon since 1997. There have been no cases of abuse, no extension of the law and no ‘slippery slope’.

    None of the fears expressed by those who opposing change in Oregon have come true. Yet opponents of a change in the law in this country still use the same, discredited arguments.

  • Does the UK public support a change to the law on assisted dying?

    The vast majority of people in the UK support an assisted dying law for terminally ill, mentally competent adults

    In 2015 the largest poll ever conducted on the issue found that 82% support assisted dying. Support is consistently high regardless of age, gender or political persuasion.

    There is small but vocal minority of people who oppose assisted dying.

  • Is it possible to identify terminal illness and predict life expectancy?

    Many doctors have experience in diagnosing a terminal illness and estimating life expectancy.

    For example doctors have to do this when they process benefit forms for terminally ill people.

    Prognosis is not an exact science. Research shows doctors are more likely to overestimate rather than underestimate life expectancy.

  • Is there a distinction between ‘assisted dying’ and ‘assisted suicide’?

    Dying people who want to control the manner and timing of their deaths are not suicidal.

    Laws which permit assistance for people who are not dying to take their lives are usually referred to as ‘assisted suicide laws’. This is beyond the scope of what Dignity in Dying campaigns for.

    In 2015 the House of Lords voted against changing the Assisted Dying Bill to refer to ‘assisted suicide‘.

  • Isn’t assisted dying happening already?

    People are being assisted to die in this country outside the law. Research suggests 1,000 people each year receive help to die, illegally, from a doctor at their request.

  • Should dying people be free to choose when and how they die?

    Seeking control is a natural instinct throughout life. It is wrong to say that we should abandon this urge in our final weeks and months.

    The current law tells dying people that if they want to control their death, they must travel abroad or do so behind closed doors.

    A safeguarded, transparent system would be safer and fairer.

  • What are the problems with the current law on assisted dying?

    The current law does not work.

    Every ten days somebody from Britain travels to Dignitas to die. Every year over 300 dying people end their own lives at home. Around 1,000 people each year receive help to die, illegally, from a doctor at their request.

    These is no regulation of these practices and no safeguards to protect people.

  • What effect would an assisted dying law have on disabled people?

    Disabled people would only be eligible to have an assisted death if they also had a terminal illness, such as cancer.

    It would be illegal to encourage a disabled person to request assisted dying. The safeguards in an assisted dying law would protect and support the public.

    Polling shows that 86% of disabled people support assisted dying for terminally ill adults.

    Lord Rix was the President of Mencap and campaigned for disability rights for over four decades. Before he died he changed his mind on assisted dying and called on Parliament to change the law.

  • Would an assisted death be free from pain?

    People who have seen a loved ones assisted death describe it as quick and painless.

    In Oregon it takes an average of five minutes for people to fall unconscious and 25 minutes for them to die.

  • Would an assisted dying law protect vulnerable people?

    The current law does not prevent or protect people having an assisted death. An assisted dying law would protect vulnerable people and be a much safer alternative.

    People are travelling abroad for assistance to die, ending their own lives or receiving illegal help from doctors. Authorities turn a blind eye to these practices.

    An assisted dying law would bring transparency, regulation and oversight. Two doctors and a judge would explore a person’s motivations for requesting assisted dying. They would make sure the person met all the eligibility criteria and also explain treatment options.

    Research from oversees shows assisted dying laws has no negative impact on vulnerable people.