‘Assisted suicide Bill opens door to coercion’, palliative care experts warn

Legalising assisted suicide in England and Wales could increase the risk of vulnerable adults being coerced into ending their lives, top palliative care doctors have warned.

In a letter to The Times, 16 palliative care experts made comparisons between Baroness Meacher’s assisted suicide Bill and similar legislation seen in other parts of the world.

Lady Meacher’s proposed legislation seeks to enable those deemed to have less than six months to live to get help to kill themselves. Her Bill is at Committee, but faces many more hurdles before it can become law.

‘Unwise and unsafe’

The signatories expressed concern at the “lack of evidence” that the suggested safeguards in the Bill “are either effective or verifiable”.

They stressed that “patients seeking assisted suicide often have significant psychosocial distress, making them at increased risk of coercion and abuse”, and that “mental capacity, an important safeguard, often fluctuates and is affected by illness, depression and medication in complex ways not yet fully understood”.

increased risk of coercion and abuse

The experts also explained that in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1997, assessment for assisted suicide relied on “simple forms filled out by single doctors, without any scrutiny of how the pre-death assessment was conducted” and the “values” of individuals, which are “almost impossible to mitigate against”.

They concluded: “Legalising assisted suicide, without strong evidence of the effectiveness of proposed safeguards, is unwise and unsafe.”

Evidence

Last month, over sixty members of the House of Lords spoke out in opposition to Meacher’s Bill.

And earlier in the month it was reported that neither the Prime Minister nor the Health Secretary will back any change in the law.

The Christian Institute’s Ciarán Kelly said: “When people understand the arguments and the issues at stake, the support for assisted suicide falls away.”

In most of the UK, a person who intentionally encourages or assists the suicide or attempted suicide of another person commits an offence which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

2015 vote

In 2015, a Bill to remove current safeguards in England and Wales was soundly defeated in the House of Commons by 330 votes to 118.

In the same year, MSPs in the Scottish Parliament rejected Patrick Harvie’s Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill by 82 votes to 36.

Also see:

Hands

Peers speak out to oppose assisted suicide Bill

Labour Peer: ‘Even well-meaning assisted suicide activists are still wrong’

Senior doctor: Assisted suicide is ‘neither painless nor dignified’

Former Archbishop blasts assisted suicide push

Related Resources