Assisted dying – an expression of individual freedom

This resolution proposed by PLC, Partido Liberal de Chile and supported by D66 of Netherlands and LIBG Liberal International British Group was hotly debated during the Human Rights Committee session at the 200th Executive Committee meeting of Liberal International held at the headquarters of the Free Democratic Party of Germany in Berlin this weekend.

Despite strong reservations from several delegates to the original wording and a proposal to refer back, a ŷlast minute re-write during the session which addressed all of the reservations expressed led to success, with a large majority of delegates voting for the resolution during the following plenary session.

This really was democracy in action and resulted in a small but important step forward for individuals suffering unbearably in the last phase of their life.

Here is the wording of the approved resolution;

Assisted dying; an expression of individual freedom.

Considering

that the decision concerning the ending of life in the context of terminal illness and unbearable suffering is part of that fundamental area of life that belongs to the individual. In making the decision for an assisted death that person is not causing harm to others and the decision is the result of freely adopted thoughts and purposes as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’

Urges

the global liberal family to recognise assisted dying as an expression of individual freedom and to recommend to countries to legislate in such a way that their citizens are given the option of a personal choice of assisted dying.

Of course this is a highly contentious issue with strong views on both sides but it is worth noting that more than 80% of the UK population is in favour of a change in the law to permit assisted dying within a strict set of criteria, see the Dignity in Dying website for more details.

The UK parliament voted against the 2014 Assisted Dying Bill by 330 votes to 118 so clearly this is work in progress, but hopefully we, as Liberal Democrats, and as part of the global liberal family can lead the argument for this personal freedom here in the UK.

* Catherine is a medical doctor originally trained in the NHS, but has spent many years as a surgeon and medical researcher working in east Africa, Asia and China. She has also been a Lib Dem PPC.

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7 Comments

  • Long, long, long overdue. I’m all for safeguards and doctor opt-outs and religious opt-outs and whatever else it takes, but our politicians need to catch up with public on this. 330 to 118 is a much closer vote than it used to be, so we are moving in the right direction.

  • @David Raw

    Indeed. The Gosport scandal occurred during a culture where NHS trusts were given financial incentives to put patients on the “Liverpool Care Pathway” which often involved withdrawing fluids so that they died of dehydration, whilst sedating them so that they were in no position to object.

    However we shouldn’t use those scandals as an excuse to deny lucid and mentally-competent patients suffering from certified terminal conditions the chance to exercise sovereignty over their bodies, and choose to avoid pain and suffering in the final stages of their life.

  • Toby Keynes 26th Jun '18 - 8:50am

    The Gosport affair was a denial of the right to choose to live: it was lives taken without consent.
    The right to choose to live or to choose to die are two sides of the same coin.
    We should be as horrified when someone’s life of suffering is enforced and continued without their consent as we are when it is taken without their consent.

  • Toby Keynes 27th Jun '18 - 9:29am

    Suicide or attempted suicide are already legal: there is a right to take one’s own life.
    I hope nobody is suggesting that we go back to the bad old days when attempting suicide would result in a prison sentence.
    Of course, we should do everything in our power, as a state and as individuals, to deal with the reasons why people are driven to attempt suicide or to consider it.
    That includes providing whatever paliative care is possible to ease physical suffering.
    However, we should also continue to respect their right to make that decision.
    And we should also respect the decisions of those individuals who face “unbearable suffering and terminal illness”, but who, because of that illness, cannot end their own lives without assistance.

  • I’m not sure about the meaning of “terminal illness and unbearable suffering”. Obviously there are conditions like MND which most people would not wish to endure to their natural end, but “unbearable suffering” is more open to interpretation. My parents were married for 70 years and towards the end of that period my mother developed a form of dementia which caused her to behave aggressively towards my father. He felt he couldn’t abandon her to residential care and became depressed because he could see no way out of his dilemma. He wanted to go to Switzerland to end his life, but in the end was in hospital with pneumonia where the system ensured that he died anyway. Without a doubt he was suffering unbearably, but with the right sort of help that suffering could have been alleviated. An injection of painkillers is always going to be more cost effective though.

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