People suffering from mental illness need to be offered healthcare, not pushed into assisted suicide, two leading psychiatrists have said.
In an editorial for The British Journal of Psychiatry, Prof. Kamaldeep Bhui and Prof. Gin Malhi said Baroness Meacher’s assisted suicide Bill was “blind” to the vulnerabilities of people with psychiatric disorders.
Baroness Meacher’s Bill – which impacts England and Wales – is officially being considered in the House of Lords, but has little chance of success.
The professors said that “people with mental illness already face multiple disadvantages” and “may further be disadvantaged by legislation that is blind to pre-existing inequalities”.
They warned the Bill caters “little” for patients deemed to be terminally ill with conditions such as dementia, psychosis, and intellectual disability.
Commenting on the inadequacies of the Bill, they contended:“Psychiatrists can play an important collaborative role to ensure that all patients receive optimal mental healthcare, and do not end up concluding their suffering is unbearable and untreatable.”
They also said that people with mental illness who develop a terminal medical disease should receive a “specialist assessment” and be offered palliative care “tailored” to their needs.
As many as 35 psychiatrists recently signed a letter to express concern about Lord Forsyth’s recent attempt to legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales.
The letter, published in The Daily Telegraph, stated: “Such legislation cuts a policy hole in suicide prevention, by measuring who should be helped to end their lives against an arbitrary set of criteria.”
It concluded: “The argument for physician-assisted suicide is being championed by people who are educated and articulate: the dangers affect those least able to speak up for themselves. To protect these vulnerable and voiceless people, we need to maintain the law as it stands.”
Last week, Peers voted against Lord Forsyth’s amendment to the Health and Care Bill by 179 votes to 145. It was the twelfth time since 1997 that proposals for assisted suicide-related laws have not been passed by UK parliamentarians.