Ann Whaley, Dignity in Dying respond to Lord Sumption's assisted dying comments

Posted On: 
18th April 2019

Dignity in Dying responds to Lord Sumption’s recent comments on assisted dying.

Dignity in Dying responds to Lord Sumption’s recent comments on assisted dying:

Ann Whaley, who accompanied her terminally ill husband Geoffrey to Dignitas in Switzerland in February 2019, was in the audience for Lord Sumption’s preliminary Reith lecture held at Middle Temple in London on 16 April 2019. Ann asked, regarding the blanket ban on assisted dying, “when we have a broken law that is causing such a great deal of suffering, where else do we turn but the courts if our politicians refuse to act?”

Following the lecture, Ann said:

“Lord Sumption’s suggestion that the law should stay as it is but that it should be broken from time to time is completely ignorant of the reality faced by dying people and their loved ones. My family and I have experienced first-hand the effects of our cruel, outdated law. Our world was plunged into chaos when the police were anonymously notified of our plan to accompany my terminally ill husband to Dignitas. I was interviewed under caution and we were terrified that Geoffrey might be stopped from travelling, or that I might be arrested.

“We were fortunate enough to have the funds to make the journey to Switzerland, and had family and friends who were willing to risk prosecution to help Geoff get there, but this is simply not the case for most people. When a law is causing real damage, as the blanket ban on assisted dying is, it should be changed, not ignored. This is why I am requesting a meeting with the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, to ask him to look into the many problems the current law causes for families like ours. We need a law that shows compassion to terminally ill people by allowing them control over their death, while ensuring potentially vulnerable people are protected.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“These comments from a former Supreme Court judge are incredibly elitist. The law as it stands only guarantees a good death to those who can get to Switzerland – this requires on average £10,000, that the individual still retains the physical strength to travel, and that they have people around them who are in a position to fight a potential criminal charge.

“When someone from the UK is travelling to Switzerland every 8 days for an assisted death, and a further 300 terminally ill people are ending their own lives in England and Wales every year, it is clear that the law is broken. To claim that it should stay the same but that people who are desperate or ‘courageous’ enough to break it should do so is a blatant shirking of responsibility.

“The only solution is reform. Law-makers in Canada and in several American and Australian states have listened to their terminally ill citizens and the public, examined the evidence and concluded that it is perfectly possible to develop transparent assisted dying laws with inbuilt safeguards that allow choice to dying people and robust protection to the rest of society. When 84% of the British public support a change in the law and over 110 million people around the world are covered by assisted dying laws, it is shameful that the UK is lagging so far behind.”