If the Bill passes into law, this controversial legislation would allow a person who had less than six months to live to request to be given drugs to help them die. The Bill has generated a great deal of impassioned debate.
In an historic moment in the House of Lords this month, the Assisted Dying Bill received its second reading. If the Bill passes into law, this controversial legislation would allow a person who had less than six months to live to request to be given drugs to help them die. The Bill has generated a great deal of impassioned debate. On one side, supporters of the Bill have argued in favour of showing compassion to those who no longer wish to continue living. On the other side, opponents of the Bill have highlighted the risk of opening the floodgates to abuse of the elderly and disabled.
Despite the vociferous supporters of the proposed legislation, it is unlikely that this private member’s Bill will become law in the near future, since Parliament is now in recess and the Prime Minister has expressed his reservations about the arguments in favour of the Bill. If it does not receive Government backing, the Bill, brought forward by Lord Falconer, will not be debated in the Commons, meaning it will not become law. However, with an ageing population and medical advances keeping greater numbers of seriously disabled people alive, it is likely that this subject will provoke continuing debate, and we may well see a revised Bill submitted for consideration by Parliament before long.
In its current form, the Bill requires a person to make a written declaration to end their own life, which is then only valid for 14 days after countersignature by two independent doctors. The doctors must confirm that the person has capacity to make such a decision.
The debate has however centred on people who are judged to be able to make a decision to end their lives. What if they are not deemed able to make such a choice?
Recent research from the University of Cambridge shows that the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is set to rise as the proportion of the population over 65 increases. If the Bill does eventually become law, a rising number of elderly people may therefore find themselves in the situation where they are unable to give consent to end their own life.
Many people set up a Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney (“LPA”) to allow a loved one or friend to take important decisions for them if they were to lose capacity. The person who sets up an LPA can give their chosen attorneys wide powers, including the right to decide whether or not the Donor should receive any life-sustaining treatment offered to them.
Neither the proposals in the Assisted Dying Bill nor the existing legislation allow someone, before they lose capacity, to make an advance decision to end their lives in specific circumstances. People would still be in the same situation, unable to make a decision, although allowing them to appoint a named person to make the decision for them could be more open to abuse. It may be considered that this is a step too far down the “slippery slope” towards giving others the right to end the lives of vulnerable people who have become an “unwanted burden”. This gap in the law (or the proposed law) is an important consideration that should be taken into account if further attempts to legalise assisted suicide are made.
Contact: Jill MacMahon