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British people are being forced to endure unbelievable suffering at the end of life – Parliament has failed them

British people are being forced to endure unbelievable suffering at the end of life – Parliament has failed them

Nick Boles MP | Dignity in Dying

3 min read Partner content

Nick Boles MP writes on the release of Dignity in Dying's new report into the 'shocking reality' faced by a significant number of dying people in the UK. 

Today (Monday 2 September 2019) Dignity in Dying publishes new research which uncovers the shocking reality faced by a significant number of dying people in this country. The experiences shared in this report are as harrowing as anything I have encountered as a Member of Parliament. I have had two bouts of cancer and am no stranger to the nastiness of the disease and its treatments, but nothing prepared me for the horror of what is described here.

In 2019 British people are being forced to endure unbelievable suffering at the end of life. Some will retch at the stench of their own body rotting. Some will vomit their own faeces. Some will suffocate, slowly, inexorably, over several days, their last moments of life disfigured by terror. Any one of us might suffer such a fate. 

17 people died in this manner yesterday. 17 more will die that way today, and tomorrow. This will continue to happen despite the best efforts of our wonderful hospices. It will continue to happen despite the care and compassion of palliative care nurses and doctors. It will continue to happen because the law refuses people in this position the right to relieve their suffering should that be their wish. Our Parliament has failed to do what legislatures in the United States, Canada and Australia have done – legalise assisted dying as a compassionate option for its terminally ill citizens.

Watching helplessly as the people they love are subjected to medieval agonies traumatises families and friends. Instead of being able to remember the happy times they shared with their loved one, they are forever haunted by the awfulness of those final days. Many will never escape the feelings of anger, guilt and shame that result from being unable to spare the person they love most from a death considered tantamount to torture.

Those who oppose a change in the law point to the fact that palliative care works for the vast majority of people approaching the end of life. That is no consolation to the people for whom it does not. It is shocking to think Parliament could ever be content with a policy that has such disastrous consequences for so many people.

Of course assisted dying should be a last resort. Of course it should be tightly regulated and operate under strict safeguards, as it has done in many places around the world since the end of the last century. To still deny it altogether to dying people in the UK who cannot be helped by palliative care, to force them to undergo unbearable physical and psychological trauma instead, is a moral outrage.

If you are in doubt about the need for an assisted dying law I urge you to read this report and when you’ve reached the end ask yourself this: What right do you have to refuse someone with a terminal illness, who has the mental capacity to make a choice, the means to avoid an agonising death?


Nick Boles is MP for Grantham and Stamford and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Choice at the End of Life.

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