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A Hidden Problem: Suicide by Terminally Ill People

New research published by Dignity in Dying has found that in 7% of suicides in England the individual involved has a terminal illness. Every fortnight someone from the UK travels to Switzerland to die, this research shows that ten times as many dying people are ending their lives at home.

The status quo cannot continue

The figures highlight the fundamental flaw of the current law and expose the deficiencies in the arguments of those opposed to assisted dying. It is clear that dying people want control at the end of life, yet currently there are no transparent choices available to them. With the ever-present threat of prosecution for assisting a suicide, the issue is forced behind closed doors and people end their lives in unsafe, unregulated and distressing circumstances.

For every person that travels to Dignitas, ten more dying people take their own life at home

Opponents offer no solution to this problem. Without legislating for assisted dying, a significant minority of dying people will continue to take matters into their own hands. An assisted dying law would provide safeguarded choice, offering better protection to terminally ill people and those that care for them.

There are stories of suffering behind every number

Duncan McArthur
Duncan McArthur ended his own life in October 2009

Duncan McArthur died on 30th October 2009. He stockpiled his medication, having been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2006. His wife Susan describes his final days:

I knew that the progress of the disease had accelerated significantly and he was beginning to have breathing difficulties. He was getting very little sleep.

Then came the day when he told me he had made the decision and that it was time to go.

Duncan died peacefully in our home with a glass of his favourite tipple by his side and me, his wife of 42 years, holding his hand. This sounds like ‘a good death’ and indeed it was except for the fact that it was illegal.

Susan was subjected to a police inquiry which delayed Duncan’s funeral for two months. An official inquest was not held until almost a year later.

Under an assisted dying law Duncan would have been able to control the manner and timing of his death without fearing the criminal implication of his wife or healthcare professionals. Duncan’s family would have been able to grieve without the threat of a court case hanging over them.

This research has further highlighted the failings of the currently law and this, combined with the overwhelming public support for a change in the law and a warning to Parliament from the Supreme Court, means that doing nothing is no longer an option.

You can read the full report here.

On Friday 7 November the House of Lords will debate Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill – click here to get the latest updates.