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Write to your MP
If legislation is brought forward, MPs will be asked to vote on whether or not to legalise assisted suicide. Please ask your MP to stand against a change in the law. You can find out who your MP is here.
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Thank you for taking the time to read this email and for your work in Parliament during this challenging time.
I write to express my opposition to the legalisation of assisted suicide and to ask you to write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Secretary of State for Justice on this issue. Attempts by a small group of MPs and Peers to encourage the Government to reconsider the legalisation of assisted suicide in the UK should continue to be resisted. I welcome the Government’s rejection last November of a review of the law around assisted suicide
Previously rejected by Parliament in 2015, legalising assisted suicide would be deeply unsafe, particularly during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic when many people are experiencing unprecedented loneliness, uncertainty and change.
First, assisted suicide can never be a ‘safe’ law. Evidence from overseas demonstrates that, incrementally but inevitably, the ‘right to die’ extends from ‘hard cases’ to a more holistic provision, despite the best intentions of those arguing in favour of regulated mild reform. Belgium and the Netherlands have expanded their provision of assisted suicide and euthanasia to include children. The American state of Oregon has expanded its list of applicable conditions to now include arthritis, complications from a fall, and kidney failure, among other non-terminal conditions. Canada has been criticised by successive United Nations special rapporteurs on the rights of persons with disabilities for the impact of its ‘medical assistance in dying’ law on persons with disabilities. Significant concern has been expressed at a “growing trend to enact legislation enabling access to medically assisted dying based largely on having a disability or disabling conditions, including in old age”.
Evidence from other jurisdictions suggests that people pursue assisted suicide more often as an attempt to resolve existential problems of self-perception and self-worth than for medically intractable issues. The latest reports from American states that have sanctioned assisted suicide demonstrate that vulnerable patients have sought to die for fear of burdening their families. For example, 51% of patients from Washington state in 2018 cited concerns that they would be a burden on their family, friends, and caregivers should they continue to live, whilst only 4% of patients in Washington that year were referred for psychiatric or psychological evaluation. Ultimately, these are existential problems rather than medically intractable issues.
Secondly, more experienced medical professionals in end of life care are less likely to support assisted suicide. In November 2020, over fifty doctors working in palliative care and other forms of end of life care signed a letter to the Times opposing the legalisation of assisted suicide in the UK. A recent British Medical Association survey found that 76% of palliative medicine specialists opposed the legalisation of assisted suicide and the same percentage would refuse to participate in any such procedures. Notably, not a single doctors’ group or major disability rights organisation in the UK supports changing the law on assisted suicide, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Geriatric Society, the Association for Palliative Medicine, Disability Rights UK, SCOPE, and the United Kingdom’s Disabled People’s Council.
Rather than legalising assisted suicide, Government and Parliament should commit to improving the quantity and quality of palliative care in our communities, and showing compassion by confirming to our vulnerable fellow citizens that their lives are always worth living. In most cases, high-quality palliative care can effectively alleviate distressing symptoms associated with the dying process. The Association for Palliative Medicine considers that “the drivers for physician assisted suicide, in general society and even amongst some professional colleagues, may be based on fundamental misconceptions of what palliative care can and cannot achieve”. Those who suffer from terminal illnesses deserve the best palliative care available to alleviate the distressing symptoms that can accompany dying.
Endorsing suicidal ideation would betray our duty, shared by Government, Parliament, and wider society, to prevent suicides wherever possible. It is a double standard for any society to allow some people assistance in suicide, even as we do all we can to prevent young people and other vulnerable groups from committing suicide. A truly humane and proportionate response would both acknowledge the sometimes tragic suffering that can accompany the end of life, and care for their needs as fully as possible in their final days.
As my representative in Parliament, I ask that you please urgently write on my behalf to the Secretary of State for Justice and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care laying out why legalising assisted suicide in the UK would be deeply unsafe, and asking them to confirm that the Government will leave the issue to Parliament. Here is a link to a draft letter which you can use as a starting point for the letters.