Some 200 British citizens, all suffering unendurably and with no hope of recovery, have now travelled to Switzerland to secure medical assistance to die. Every month others make the same final journey. It is shameful that we refuse them the right to be helped to die in their own country with their loved ones around.
Opposition to a right-to-die law is led by a minority of people with particular religious or ethical views. Their motives may be compassionate but their actions are cruel. To force people suffering unendurably to stay alive against their will is a form of torture.
The only valid argument for resisting change is to protect society. The fear exists that the elderly and disabled could become obliged to seek death rather than be a burden on others. But right-to-die legislation exists in Belgium and the Netherlands and includes effective safeguards that prevent abuse. It has close to 90% public support.
Palliative care is good in these countries and is the preferred option for the vast majority of terminally ill patients. The proportion of people seeking assistance to die remains around just 2% of all deaths. Many are middle aged rather than old, strong willed individuals determined to triumph over their disease by choosing for themselves their time to die. The knowledge that an escape from suffering is available helps many sustain life past the point when it might otherwise be unbearable.
This issue is not going to go away. Until reform is achieved there will be a steady flow of individuals experiencing the most terrible suffering who demand the right of choice, and who seek medical assistance to end their lives. The time is long overdue for Parliament to respect their wishes.
Chris Davies is a Liberal Democrat MEP and author of the pamphlet ‘Our Right to Die – lessons for Britain from the European experience’. Copies can be obtained at www.chrisdaviesmep.org.uk
* Dignity in Dying is an independent non-partisan campaign. We welcome the support of all parliamentarians, political activists and others – the personal views expressed here are not the views of the organisation.