Dame Joan Bakewell, whose job is to represent the interests of elderly people to the Government, says suicide activist Dr Phillip Nitschke should have been made more welcome in the UK.
Dr Nitschke is an Australian euthanasia advocate who recently toured the UK promoting methods of committing suicide. On his arrival in the country he was detained by the authorities for several hours, and his approach has even been criticised by some some assisted suicide campaigners.
However, Dame Joan says he should have been welcomed to the UK. She argues that the current law banning assisted suicide is “a mess” and claims “each of us must be free to find his or her own way” towards death.
Dame Joan believes that with people living longer, the issue of assisted suicide “will not go away” and “must be talked about”.
Ultimately, she writes today in The Times, “death defeats” our attempts to use laws to “protect and enlighten”, and instead we need “the compassion to collaborate with it, to ease its coming, to smooth the path”.
Dame Joan was criticised last year when she suggested that old people should be allowed to die if their ‘identity’ fades away through conditions such as dementia.
She was speaking in the context of her new role as the Government’s ‘Voice of Older People’. On her appointment Equalities Minister Harriet Harman described her as “a role model for active and positive senior citizens”.
Commenting at the time, Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute said Dame Joan’s comments “ran the risk of giving the impression to people with dementia that they have a duty to die”.
Campaigners against assisted suicide argue that while arguments to change the law are often articulated by confident people, any move to weaken it would create a dangerous situation for those who are vulnerable, elderly or depressed.
In her article, published in The Times today, Dame Joan writes that “those now getting on are the baby-boomers, even now in their sixties, a generation of assertive and insistent individuals who won’t be willing to face their declining years with timid submission”.
She claims that “medical authorities are revising their guidelines” on the issue. However, the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council remain opposed to assisted suicide.
The Royal College of Nursing is currently running a consultation on the issue. Most doctors, and particularly palliative care professionals, are against assisted suicide.