Senior doctors argue for change to UK’s assisted dying law

Posted on Thursday September 10, 2015

The UK’s legal position on assisted dying has been described as “cruel” by some of the country’s medical professionals, and they have called on the Government to give patients the right to die if they have six months or less left to live.

A letter from 27 doctors and two nurses, which was published in the Guardian newspaper, says that current legislation forces terminally ill people to face travelling overseas in order to end their lives.

They have asked Westminster to approve the private member’s bill from Labour MP Rob Marris, which would permit a doctor to assist a patient with dying if they have only a few months left to live and their resolve is clear.

In the letter, it says: “As healthcare professionals we believe that the current law prohibiting assisted dying is dangerous, cruel and in direct conflict with our duty to care for our patients.

“Forcing people to travel abroad to die or to end their own lives in this country in distressing circumstances is not consistent with patient-centred care.”

As part of the Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill, which will be discussed tomorrow, two doctors and a family court Judge would review each case where a patient intends to end their own life.

The patient’s predicted lifespan and mental health would be considered, in order to ensure they are making an informed decision, so that they can receive assistance to die.

Though the required medication would be prepared by a doctor, the patient would have to take it without any physical assistance and only in the presence of a health professional.

Signatories supporting the new bill include Sir Muir Gray, the NHS’s chief knowledge officer, as well as other leading health experts.

Religious groups from numerous faiths have criticised the move, and the Archbishop of Canterbury – Justin Welby – recently claimed that if the law change is allowed then it will mean suicide is “actively supported” rather than being viewed as a tragedy.

However, the Royal College of Physicians, which represents hospital doctors, has also said that it does not support a change in the law.

MPs will debate the bill in Parliament this Friday, which will be the first time the right-to-die issue has been formally discussed there since 1997.