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The House of Lords today has the opportunity to fix a broken, outdated and unsafe law

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive | Dignity in Dying

4 min read Partner content

The debate on Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill today provides Peers with a rare opportunity to progress legislation that is popular, safe and compassionate.

More than that, they have the chance to fix a six-decade-old law that causes huge suffering for dying people and offers no real protection for vulnerable people.

Over the past few years, Dignity in Dying has produced three reports on the awful consequences of the blanket ban on assisted dying. This week, our Last Resort report told the stories of people whose loved ones had taken their own lives while living with a terminal illness. It uncovered the hidden realities of the terrible decisions that some dying people feel forced to take in order to control their deaths.

Hundreds of dying people take their own lives in this country every year, and it is an area that until now there is precious little research into. Those who oppose assisted dying pretend that the law is safe and working well here in the UK but provide no answer to address these tragic deaths. Terminally ill people, suffering against their wishes at the ends of their lives, need a safe and lawful way to take control over their deaths or else these suicides will continue to happen.

Each and every family member, who we spoke to for the report, was clear that if assisted dying were an option here in this country, they would have made that choice. Instead, they felt forced to end their own lives behind closed doors and away from their loved ones, without any oversight from the authorities.

Our two previous reports on the consequences of the blanket ban on assisted dying tell similar stories. The True Cost of Dignitas looked at the real stories behind the dozens of dying Brits who travel to Switzerland to end their own lives every year. Far from being an easy option, people who had faced that choice told us it was expensive, extremely difficult to navigate and often impossible to access due to laws here in the UK.

We now have more evidence than ever before that assisted dying works well in countries like our own

Due to inconsistent application of the law, we found that many dying people were unable to access an assisted death in Switzerland, while many others were able to do so without any scrutiny by authorities here in the UK. The law therefore offered at most only obstacles, and at no point provided safeguards or protections for vulnerable people.

The Inescapable Truth examined the reality of people dying here in the UK while in receipt of our world-class palliative and hospice care. While the vast majority of terminally ill people can have a peaceful and dignified death here in the UK, for the first time we were able to quantify the number of dying people, who even with the very best care, would suffer at the ends of their lives.

Without an assisted dying law, 17 people a day in the UK die with unrelieved pain. Many more will die without adequate symptom control or die an undignified death. Others will choose to withdraw life-sustaining treatment or choose to stop eating and drinking, thereby dying long, drawn-out deaths – all without anywhere near the safeguards proposed by the Assisted Dying Bill.

Six years after the House of Lords last gave its support to this legislation, we now have more evidence than ever before that assisted dying works well in countries like our own. In 11 States of the USA, 5 States of Australia and New Zealand, robust laws have been crafted that give dying people choice at the end of life.

They have been shown to work safely and provide protection to potentially vulnerable groups – in Oregon, where assisted dying has been legal for almost 25 years, Disability Rights Oregon reports that it has never received a single complaint about the law.

Faced with proof that our blanket ban on assisted dying is causing huge suffering to dying people and their families, and provided with evidence that laws providing choice at the end of life work without any realisation of the hypothetical concerns of opponents, the House of Lords must today give approval to Baroness Meacher’s Bill.

To object to the Bill is to approve of the status quo, a status quo that is unsafe, unfair and does not command the support of the British people.

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