Monitoring Physician Assisted Suicide in the UK

by Christopher White, CBC Director of Research and Education on September 9, 2015

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This month will be an important one for those monitoring end of life issues as the United Kingdom’s House of Commons debates a much hyped “Assisted Dying” bill.

In anticipation of the bill’s debate this Friday, two prominent authorities have come out in opposition of it—one sacred, one secular.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, has called for the measure to be rejected, stating it is fundamentally at odds with how patients ought to be treated.

And in the latest development, Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former president of the High Court’s family division, has strongly denounced the bill. In a letter to The Times, she noted:

The attempted safeguards contained in the Assisted Dying Bill are utterly inadequate and will not protect vulnerable individuals. I have serious concerns that the Bill, if passed, presents significant public safety risks . . . My experience of presiding over the family division of the High Court showed me again and again how subtle and calculated the pressure, coercion and even control exerted on a vulnerable individual can be.

The threat that physician assisted suicide poses to vulnerable persons is the primary reason every major disability rights group opposes the practice. They recognize—rightfully so—that they will become a major target if legalized and be deemed a burden to the state and society. The law has a special interest in protecting these parties and for this very reason alone, the bill should be rejected.

We’ll continue to follow this closely and will keep you updated along the way. But the message for now—be it abroad or at home—is to stay vigilant.

UPDATE: members of parliament overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would enact physician assisted suicide in the UK. As the Financial Times observed, “The size of the majority is a setback for campaigners who want England and Wales to follow the Benelux countries and Switzerland, as well as US states such as Oregon, in legalizing assisted suicide.” The final vote was 330 against the bill and 118 in favor of it. A significant setback, indeed. Let’s hope this movement experiences more of the same in the years to come.

Image by AK Rockefeller via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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