We already know that when it comes to their views on assisted dying, the general public are not swayed by inaccurate and irrelevant arguments. But, as we saw during the Second Reading of Lord Falconer’s Bill in July, misinformation and hypothetical fears are all too often used in the debate. These myths need to be dispelled.
MYTH 1: Slippery slope
Critics of Lord Falconer’s Bill often cite the euthanasia laws in operation in Belgium and the Netherlands (which enable non-terminally ill people to die), claiming it is evidence of a ‘slippery slope’. Though these people steer away from referencing the assisted dying law in Oregon (limited to terminally ill, mentally competent adults), on which Lord Falconer’s Bill builds, which has been operating safely for 17 years without any cases of abuse.
The so called ‘slippery slope’ does not exist: the law in Oregon has not widened; the laws in Belgium and the Netherlands were much broader in scope when they were enacted.
MYTH 2: Vulnerable people would be put at risk
The upfront safeguards of an assisted dying law would protect vulnerable people. Under the current law investigations into deaths that have been assisted only take place after the person has died, when it is too late. Additionally, in jurisdictions where assisted dying is legal there is no evidence that potentially vulnerable groups such as the over 85s, disabled people, people of lower socio-economic status and those with mental health problems are adversely affected. In fact these groups are underrepresented in the figures.
MYTH 3: The current law works
The current law does not work: a significant minority of people die in pain despite receiving a high standard of care, every two weeks someone from this country travels to Dignitas to die and 7% of people who take their own lives in England are terminally ill. The current law turns a blind eye to this suffering, providing no regulation and no upfront safeguards.
These are just a handful of the common myths that enter the debate on assisted dying. It is critical that they are eradicated so that we can have a genuine, constructive discussion on how the law can be changed. The general public have seen through the scaremongering and recognised it for what it is. It is time for all opponents to retire their worn out clichés and engage with the evidence in front of them.
This is the least that dying people deserve.