Author Archives: David Harding

The will of the people, the “Right to Die.”

This is the last of a series of three posts about the right to die, end of life care and its legislation. The first post can be seen here and the second one can be seen here.

Since we all are going to die and see loved ones die, everyone has a vested interest in the country’s approach to death in the 21st century. Many believe that choosing the manner and timing of your own death is a fundamental human right. 80-90 per cent of the UK’s population believes assisted dying should be legalised for those suffering from terminal illnesses, and this is a view held equally strongly by those with “left wing” or “right wing” views.

The Liberal Democrats have long supported legislation on the “Right to Die”, but the gap between our elected politicians as a whole and the public is huge. The last attempt at legislation to legalise assistance for those who are terminally ill and likely to die within six months, was defeated in the House of Commons by 212 votes.

Some of the concerns MPs have are around vulnerable people. People who may feel under pressure to end their lives so as not to be a burden to family, caregivers or a society short of resources, or that people may not have been adequately supported and so may make an ill informed decision. But when peoples fears are addressed and adequate support put in place the request of someone to end their life may not be made again, and in most cases it is “possible to achieve a dignified and peaceful death.”

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An opportunity to reset end of life care

This is the second of a series of three posts about the right to die, end of life care and its legislation. The first post can be seen here.

Many rapid changes were made to prevent the NHS’s urgent services being swamped by Covid-19. Whilst we wait for population immunity- preferably through a successful vaccine – and hope there is no second wave, the NHS now has to adjust to the new normal. The NHS needs to start to deliver the routine care, the scans, the operations and cancer care that are now backlogged. This will require new ways of working and thinking or prolonged rationing of services will be a reality. There is now a real need and opportunity to reset how we manage Health and Social Care.

Now is the time to be thinking of end of life care, as even amidst the sad news of the thousands of care home deaths and the concerns raised about Covid-19 and Do Not Resuscitate orders, there was one silver lining – the importance of talking about death, advanced care planning and end of life care was brought sharply into focus.

UK end of life care, in parts, is exceptional. But many do not get the care they need, and live in fear. Services are patchy, disjointed, and not available all the time. This is unsurprising given that state funding of hospice care is woeful and that when any one part of a complex web of inter-related services struggles, patients and service users easily fall through the gaps. When Jeremy Hunt, posted his slightly sinister tweet “Every older person should die with dignity and respect…” he did have a point.

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Dying, vulnerable people need the law to protect them

This is the first of a series of three posts about the right to die, end of life care and its legislation.

Assisting someone to take their own life is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. In Sept. 2019 yet another case of assisted suicide hit the news: Mavis Eccleston was cleared of manslaughter and murder after admitting to giving her husband an overdose of medicine being used to treat the pain of his terminal cancer. The Crown Prosecution Service said “There was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction… it was in the public interest to prosecute” and had a duty to act. After a trial lasting two weeks, the jury took just four hours to clear Mavis of the charges. The decision was unanimous.

Guidelines published by the Director of Public Prosecutions say people acting wholly out of compassion could avoid prosecution for helping people end their lives, because the assistant has good motives. The role of DPP guidelines is to provide certainty where there is a legal gap. However we must have concerns about the democratic legitimacy of the DPP, setting out policy in this area and thus furtively, rewriting the law. This is a slippery slope. This doesn’t preserve life. It cannot properly protect vulnerable individuals because investigation of the circumstances and consideration of vulnerability only happen after death.

The former Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, who chaired the Commission on Assisted Dying said:

The law on assisted dying in Britain is an incoherent, cruel, hypocritical mess.

Guidelines and precedents have been set, and so the time has come to more openly adopt a position that honestly recognises the issues, and to restore a measure of cohesion to the law.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 2 Comments

Recent Comments

  • Adam Robertson
    @Peter Martin - How many seats did the Lib Dems win simply because the Tory/Reform was split? Yes we won seats because the Tory/Reform vote was split. However, ...
  • David Raw
    @ Tristan Ward I'm afraid Winston Churchill came a thousand years later than, "the early 10th century Liberal Party", and I'm afraid the good folk of Dundee...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Alex, “How many seats did the Lib Dems win simply because the Tory/Reform vote was split?” "Probably not very many actually." "Actual...
  • David Raw
    @ Tristan Ward Lessons of History ? Not advisable to ride on the back of an alligator, no matter how vulnerable and docile it may appear at first sight ....
  • Tristan Ward
    @David Raw Yes it was the alliance between liberal forces and conservative forces that led to the decline in the early 10th century Liberal Party. But liber...