‘Assisted suicide never necessary’, say palliative care experts

The idea that assisted suicide is required to avoid dying in unbearable pain is a “fallacy”, leading palliative care experts have said.

In a letter to The Times, Dr Carol L Davis and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff challenged the idea that a painful  death is unavoidable for some terminally ill patients.

They were responding to claims that palliative care could not always keep terminally ill patients from “protracted suffering” and that experts in the field should embrace assisted suicide as “complementary to their work”.

Pain myth

In reply, Dr Davis, lead consultant in palliative medicine at University Hospital Southampton, and Baroness Finlay, a professor of palliative medicine at Cardiff University School of Medicine, said the letter writer was simply perpetuating “the myth that ‘assisted dying’ is needed to avoid dying in pain”.

It is high time that the argument that “assisted dying” is necessary to avoid a painful death is exposed as a fallacy

The specialists stated that “with modern analgesia, pain is much easier to control than once it was” and that consequently, as research in America has shown, “pain, or fear of it” was well down the list of reasons given by people seeking “fatal drugs”.

They concluded: “It is high time that the argument that ‘assisted dying’ is necessary to avoid a painful death is exposed as a fallacy.”

Not wanted

Over 50 palliative care practitioners, who all care for dying patients on a daily basis, also voiced their opposition to another review of the law on assisted suicide.

Writing to The Times, the medics argued there was only a “marginal interest” for any change in the law and that there was no “enthusiasm” for it in their profession.

They said: “A majority of doctors licensed to practise would not agree to prescribe lethal drugs (assisted suicide), and a larger majority would not administer them (euthanasia).”

Ethos undermined

In a separate letter, Peter West, a trustee of a hospice in London, wrote to reject the suggestion that hospices should offer assisted suicide.

He said: “In my time with the hospice I have seen what great work can be done to help terminally ill people make the best of the life they have left.

“‘Turn left for help, turn right to die today’ would completely undermine the ethos of the hospice movement.”

In 2015 the House of Commons voted by 330 to 118 against legalising assisted suicide.

Also see:

‘In a civilised society every life has value’, says bioethicist

GPs oppose legalising assisted suicide

Assisted suicide law ‘protects vulnerable from pressure to end their lives’

Related Resources