Assisted Suicide Debate Revived in the U.K.

By Kelly Cobiella

Jan 5, 2012 12:59pm

A new report  from  the U.K.’s Commission on Assisted Dying has reignited the debate over assisted suicide in Great Britain.

The 400-page report, written by doctors, lawyers and a former police commissioner,  called for legalizing assisted suicide  in England and Wales, and outlined a set of safeguards to ensure a new law would not be abused.

“There should be a change for a tightly defined group of people who are terminally ill, of sound mind and not being pressured  into a decision,” said commission member  Barbara Young.

Assisted suicide would only be allowed for people over the age of 18 who have 12 months or less to live and who are deemed mentally competent.  Dementia patients and those with locked-in syndrome –  a rare neurological disorder marked by complete paralysis except for eye movement — would not be eligible.  Assisted suicide would require the approval of two doctors and observance of a two-week waiting period after the decision was made.

Young said there was broad support for legalizing assisted suicide in England and Wales.  “About 80 percent of the public says they approve of assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill,” said Young, and those who wish to die  “should be given support in ending their life because they are in intolerable pain and suffering.”

The year-long study drew on evidence from 1,300 sources, but its funding has caused some controversy: Commissioned by the rigth-to-die group Dignity in Dying, the report’s funding came exclusively from well-known supporters of assisted suicide, such  as best-selling author Terry Pratchett, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and businesman Bernard Lewis.

Critics of legalizing assisted suicide have cried foul, saying the report as biased and flawed.

“The safeguards proposed by this commission are really inadequate,” said Dr. John Wiles, chairman of Care Not Killing.  For example, Wiles said, the waiting period was too short.  “I’ve seen people distressed and worried for two weeks who when you brought their symptoms and their disease under control have really appreciated the fact they’re still alive.”

The British Medical Association did not cooperate with the study and said it believed  most doctors did not want to legalize assisted suicide.  A government spokesperson said there were no plans to change the law.

 

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