I can, however, understand Ms Hinsliff’s impression that the assisted dying campaign is “focusing too much on the mechanics of death itself and too little on the process that goes before it”. Dignity in Dying’s campaign is by nature a campaign to change the law on how some dying people choose to die; it is a campaign that posits an alternative system of, yes, the mechanics of death for terminally ill people who suffer intolerably at the end of life.
But it is not only that. As evidence from jurisdictions that have legalised assisted dying show, the option of an assisted death for terminally ill people affects their entire end-of-life experience. The choice of assisted dying gives people peace of mind, and often those who most benefit from a change in the law are those who never go on to use it. For example in Oregon in 2010, 61 people had an assisted death but a further 20 people had prescriptions for assisted dying and did not take them, dying of their underlying illnesses instead.
Moreover Compassion in Dying, established in 2007, has taken over Dignity in Dying’s charitable functions. Compassion in Dying provides information on your current end-of-life rights, advice on how to prepare for the dying process, free Advance Decisions for those wishing to record their end-of-life medical treatment wishes, and research on, precisely, the art of dying well.
So while Dignity in Dying campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying, we should not forget that death is not an isolated experience, removable from the context of dying and someone’s last months. And I cannot agree that the art of dying well in the last months is solely a consideration of “a far more subtler assistance, of a kind routinely found in religious faith but harder to locate in a secular and questioning age”. Dignity in Dying and Compassion in Dying are dedicated to high-quality end-of-life care complemented by an assisted dying law, where the patient is empowered, respected and fully-informed. This, we believe, is what is fundamental to the art of dying well.
What do you think? Does the assisted dying campaign focus too much on death and not enough on dying? Comments below.