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Wed, 21 October 2020

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The Assisted Dying Bill

What the Bill will do

Lord Falconer introduced his Assisted Dying Bill into the House of Lords on May 15th 2013. The Bill would allow for mentally competent , terminally ill adults to request assistance to choose the time and manner of their death. Opinion polls consistently show that an overwhelming majority of the British public agree with this.

The Bill would prevent terminally ill people from having to seek help to die in a foreign country at a time when they are physically able to travel (and therefore earlier than perhaps they would choose to control their death). In addition, it would ensure that terminally ill adults who have an assisted death do so having met clear safeguards and explored all their alternatives, such as palliative care, with healthcare professionals, rather than as at present, in secret, when checks are only made after someone dies.

Dying adults would not have to face prolonged suffering against their wishes. The Assisted Dying Bill would give adults with terminal illness the peace of mind that the choice of an assisted death is available if their suffering becomes too much for them.

Limits of the Bill

The Bill would not legalise assisted suicide for non-dying people. The Bill makes it clear that an assisted death would only be an option for those with six months or less to live. Unlike countries where assisted suicide is legal, this legislation makes no provision to allow assistance to die where a person is suffering or poor quality of life, unless they are dying from a terminal illness.

The two concepts are distinct; there is a clear difference between helping someone to die who is terminally ill and helping someone to die who is not. The former allows the terminally ill person to have choice and control over the manner and timing of their imminent death; the latter enables someone who is not dying to choose death over life. Under the Assisted Dying Bill, more people would not die, but the suffering of some terminally ill people would be reduced.

The Bill would not legalise voluntary euthanasia, where a doctor administers the life ending medication. Under this Bill the person choosing an assisted death would have to take the final action to end their life. Neither would the Bill legalise non-voluntary euthanasia where the person being directly helped to die is no longer competent to make that choice for themselves. This Bill only applies to adults with mental capacity both at the time of their request and at the time of their death.

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