The Assisted Dying Bill – a disgaceful vote by the House of Commons

So – Westminster has voted 330 votes to 118 against changing the law to allow people with terminal illnesses the right to end their own lives with assistance from professionally trained medical personnel. That’s 448 members out of a total of 650 members had the guts or interest to vote anyway. 202 of them didn’t bother to show their faces or merely sat on the fence.

In the first time in twenty years, Westminster debated the Right To Die. In twenty years the members of this Parliament have moved forward not one jot. Well – maybe a jot – there were 118 members who voted for the Bill, proposed by Rob Marris. Yet even that number constituted a 2% swing to the Nay sayers this time around. It really is disgraceful.

I watched part of the debate and saw the tears and heard the wobbly voices from those who had nursed and lost family members; sons, daughters, mothers and fathers and others. Heart rending as those stories are, they are personal anecdotes. They do not, under any circumstances, reflect the view of the general public whose number have, over the years of polling, increased to the point that some 80% of those polled are in favour of assisted dying for the terminally ill.

The salient point in all this is that by virtue of the Private member’s Bill introduced, assisted dying has to be requested by the dying patient; such request has to be approved by a high court judge and two doctors. The weasel words from those who opposed the Bill had to do with ‘not enough control measures were proposed in the Bill’. Utter bollocks!

I know I must sound angry and I most certainly am. I am appalled that 330 parliamentarians – that’s about half of all members voted against the people’s voice. They called it a conscience vote! Smacks of religious woo-woo and mealy mouthed fear to me. Their own feelings influence their ability to determine legislation? Feelings should have no place in legislative matters! Just over 50% of Westminster voted against a Bill that some 80% of polled constituents approved. The medical profession itself has organised into a lobby group to tell Westminster that the Bill should be passed. And these parliamentarians are elected representatives. Of course it makes me angry.

Tory Fiona Bruce said: “We will have crossed the rubicon (sic) from killing people being illegal to killing people being legal.”
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/mps-overwhelmingly-reject-plans-to-legalise-assisted-dying-for-people-with-terminal-illnesses-10496918.html

Tell us more Ms Bruce. How many of the military (healthy young people) have been killed because of wars/skirmishes sanctioned by this government of yours? How many disabled, homeless and desperately ill people have died because of your government’s sanctions on available benefits? How many children have died as a result of poor monitoring over fostering? How many people commit suicide because they can no longer abide living under Tory austerity? How many dying people commit suicide in horrendous fashion because there is no safe alternative available to them? Have you ever added those figures up, Ms Bruce? How many of these deaths have been legal? Or would you prefer to say that all the deaths have been illegal and you have washed your hands of them all? I forgot to mention that Ms Bruce is an evangelical Christian and therefore cannot be trusted to vote for the whole community, only for those who have been ‘saved’. In a country whose polls show a larger percentage don’t even have religious belief. This makes me even more angry.

Your Tory government crossed the Rubicon many moons ago. More people have died under your Government’s regime than would ever make the choice to die because they are already dying.

I find the lack of reason and ethical thinking abominable in our leaders. It is easy to blame the churches and religion and their lobbying – it is less easy to accept that mealy-mouthed and weasel-worded parliamentary representatives are more interested in themselves and their own stories than in the plight of those few people who are requesting the ability to determine their own deaths and the means of those deaths and to be able to call on professionally trained people to help them.

There have been several high profile people coming out publically in favour of assisted suicide – the most recent was Terry Pratchett. Then there were the tragic cases of Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb who took their pleas to the highest court they could find – only to be knocked back. Poor Tony – he cried at the verdict, stopped eating and died 8 days later. Thank you High Court – for nothing. And what about those (who could afford the ten grand) who had to go to Dignitas to achieve their wish to die at the time of their own choosing?

Why on earth haven’t we a place here in the UK that is registered to deliver the needs of sufficient people to warrant it being an NHS supported directive?

I was going to mouth off further about this but then found this article in The Huffington Post and decided that the author was a better writer than I am.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/bex-felton/its-time-the-well-stop-te_b_8122374.html

We really do have to stop the well among us from telling the dying how to die.

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Assisted Suicide in the News – Again

You know whenever you come across polls, surveys and other methods that attempt to quantify the public’s attitudes to assisted suicide, euthanasia and just plain suicide, the majority opinion seems to be well in excess of the halfway mark.

YouGov has conducted an online poll of 4,437 British adults for the Westminster Faith Debates. This is a religious organisation commissioning a survey. Well done although I suggest they didn’t warm to the results.

Dr Anne Turner with her son - to Dignitas

Dr Anne Turner with her son – to Dignitas

‘Overall 70% of those questioned said they backed a change in the law.’

Interestingly in this survey 56% of those responders following Catholicism supported a change in the law. The percentage changes were upwards for those not so active in public adherence to their faith. Anglicans, Jewish and Sikh faiths had a majority in favour of a change in the law.

Typically a spokesman (this time for the Church of England) opined that such surveys were the wrong way to go about testing opinion on this issue. Presumably because the results didn’t match his expectations.

In April this year, another petitioner for the right to die with the help of a doctor has made a case that continues the legal challenge mounted by the late Tony Nicklinson.

The inability or refusal of the legal and political fraternity to address this issue head on seems to me to smack of the utter meanness that religion displays in its mantra that suffering is the way to god. It may be naïve to describe it in this way and no doubt I can be taken to task for being simplistic about religious faith and its aspirations. I don’t really give a damn.

Religiosity is simplistic in essence and its tenets are man-made injunctions both for and against specific behaviour. I hold no brook with religiosity of any stripe. Why should I? I am not religious. My point is that I should not be held prisoner to religious privilege in the political agenda nor should any medical attendant have to suffer threats or indictment for murder under a ridiculous archaic and exceedingly antiquated law.

This law was made under the thrall of religiosity and is really and truly antiquated in the 21st century. We have a population (at least in developed countries) where medical technology is able to increase longevity (not necessarily quality of life) with medications and palliative care et al.

Some of us do not want that sort of longevity. Some of us have had enough and some of us, like Nicklinson and Lamb, Purdy and others, want help to end our assessment of the travesty of our lives.

He has mounted a challenge to the law

Paul Lamb – He has mounted a challenge to the law

What is so hard about this? I really do not understand why UK law would consider the compassionate act of a medical person in administering a drug that would end such a life to be murder. It isn’t murder when a vet puts a dog, cat, horse, donkey, cow or any other animal under an anaesthetic and then administers a lethal dose to end its suffering. We are just animals after all. We like to think that because we have developed consciousness that we are special and ‘above’ other animals. Our physical bodies attest that this is not so. We are like every other mammal; we just don’t call each other ‘it’. With tears, love and regret we acquiesce to the induced death of our best loved domestic companions. We grieve, sometimes for years if not decades. If only we could do this with our best friends and family easily with no religious angst.

It is over ten years since the first Briton went to Dignitas to end his life.

Ten years of over 180 Britons having to pay thousands of pounds to go to a Switzerland-based clinic, located in an industrial estate, to end the lives that they consider intolerable. And, make no mistake, it is they who know their lives are intolerable, not some granny state. The extra cost of taking a family member as support for the end of their life is substantial. The Act governing this was made in 1961. Those travelling with the patient could be indicted. So far no one has. That’s not quite good enough They have to be legally immune from arrest as accessories.

They have had to make this decision well before their self-assessed use-by-date because they have not been able to access their own country’s NHS system to find the compassion and willingness to help them through this final hurdle. Why? Maybe it is partly because there is an established religion in this country. There may be a fear of funds for politicking being withdrawn. Maybe big pharma has something to do with it. But I doubt it. 180 people is hardly worth the effort. Many more would not have the funds to enable such a Dignitas visit. So let’s quadruple the number just for fun. 720 people out of a population of some 55 million. And the sky will fall in?? Our moral values will fail – you have to be joking!!

Britain likes to see itself as civilised but I question this. Especially in relation to assisted suicide, the shilly shallying over acceptable criteria to employ for such a euthanasia act is quite pathetic.

In Australia there is currently a window of opportunity::

‘there’s a bill about to be introduced into NSW State Parliament that would give patients the legal right to request a humane, medically-assisted death (voluntary euthanasia). This option includes robust legal safeguards and would only apply to individuals suffering from painful terminal illness.’

It still doesn’t go far enough but it is a start. The Northern Territory passed an Act which was overturned federally because the Northern Territory was ‘just’ a territory and deemed unable to make its own laws. So a mealy mouthed religite conservative put up a bill overturning the Territory’s bill after only one or two people had made use of it.

This quote from the lobby group GetUp says much the same thing I have blogged about before:

‘ … too many Australians choose to end their suffering by the only legal means available to them. Options such as ending life support treatment, cutting off food and water or suiciding, often violently. These options are distressing, prolong suffering and cause further grief and anxiety. They can also push family, friends and medical support away when they’re needed most.’

Can we all please be civilised in the proper sense of the word and leave superstition, religiosity and misplaced pro-life quasi-arguments behind?

People who have made a decision to die because life has become intolerable need help not hindrance.

For those of you who haven’t seen The Barbarian Invasions http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0338135/

I suggest you watch it.

Force feeding against her will

The storm brewing over the unnamed Welsh woman, an anorexic who wants to die, has come to an unsatisfactory legal conclusion – so far. It sets a poor precedent in a so-called free, democratic country.

A judge sitting in the Court of Protection has issued a ruling that she is to be force fed on the grounds of an assumed diminished capacity of the woman to make her own decisions. Well, I guess that was the only criterion the Court could use.

Understandably people have difficulty with this. Both the wishes of the woman in question and the ruling of the judge are problematic.

On one hand, we live in a society where people have independent control over their lives. This woman apparently made a living will firstly indicating a desire to die and then later amended it because she wanted to live and (but?) wanted to make her own decisions about her future. I suppose this seeming vacillation formed the basis of diminished capacity.

We are told she is intelligent and charming; a former medical student. We are also told that those who know her best think there should be no interference from the state and that she should be allowed to die if that is her wish.

I know that personally, I think if people want to die then they have every right to determine that themselves.

We all have pictures of people deciding to jump from the bridge or the high rise building ledge and the do-gooder talking the would-be suicide out of it. We know of young teenagers making suicide pacts on facebook and then dying. We know that people like Arthur Koestler and his wife decided to die together.

Arthur Koestler

We know of severely disabled people like Tony Nicklinson who want to die but no one will let him. Then we have the psychiatrists telling us that some suicides are ‘just’ a cry for help.

It isn’t that long ago that attempted suicide was illegal punishable by incarceration. Now it is punishable by a psychiatric treatment regime.

Unfortunately for this woman, her hospice stay came to the attention of her local authority who presumably felt it their civic duty to interfere and seek court intervention.

What an impossible situation for all parties. The resolution, to my mind, should be to continue the palliative care and allow the woman her rights as a human being. But you can imagine the churches’ reaction if the judge had not made this ruling.

‘The judge added: “E is a special person, whose life is of value. She does not see it that way now, but she may in future.

“I would not overrule her wishes if further treatment was futile, but it is not. Although extremely burdensome to E, there is a possibility that it will succeed.”’

Defending the rights of the state to keep people alive against their wishes will open up the euthanasia debate – that can only be a good thing, provided the churches keep their sticky fingers out of it. But what about defending the rights of the ‘special’ individual to determine her own death?

We can all feel compassion for this woman, but should it extend to denying her right to die? I, for one, don’t think so. Of course, I don’t know the details, but it is glaringly obvious that a woman who refuses solid food for a year and states she has no reason to live, actually wants to die.

I don’t think it is anyone’s place to try to predict a future where she may see a value in her life that she hasn’t seen since she made this decision. I do think it reasonable to let someone die if that is what he or she wants.

The latest news from British Columbia is:

 A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has declared Canada’s laws against physician-assisted suicide unconstitutional because they discriminate against the physically disabled

 In her ruling, Smith noted suicide itself is not illegal, and therefore the law against assisted suicide contravenes Section 15 of the charter, which guarantees equality, because it denies physically disabled people like Taylor the same rights as able-bodied people who can take their own lives, she ruled.

Tony Nicklinson

Maybe we can use this reasoning in the UK and let Tony Nicklinson win his legal battle so he can die.

Euthanasia, Assisted Dying is back on the Table

It is amazing how long supposedly progressive and developed societies take to change, amend or even tweak legislation that devolves any more power to Joe Public. Our societies are becoming more not less restrictive. The ancient Greeks would be horrified with our current do’s and don’ts enabled by our legislature and enforced by our police and judiciary. This is the Guardian article and yes!

Lord Falconer headed the Commission

The Commission on Assisted Dying was set up in September 2010 and Demos has made available a 400 odd page report on its findings and recommendations here. Its terms of reference were:

· to investigate the circumstances under which it should be possible for people to be assisted to die

· to recommend what system, if any, should exist to allow people to be  assisted to die

· to identify who should be entitled to be assisted to die

· to determine what safeguards should be put in place to ensure that vulnerable  people are neither      abused nor pressured to choose an assisted death

· to recommend what changes in the law, if any, should be introduced

Now I think they are very carefully worded aims and the Commission has been very circumspect in its recommendations and to my mind did not go far enough. After all, surveys of the public and of medical practitioners show a very substantial majority in favour of euthanasia being legalised. The Commission was far too accommodating to the religite mores that seem to abound on this island.

This is from the wiki article

 Even though polling in Great Britain reveals that “80% of British citizens and 64% of Britain’s general practitioners” are in favour of euthanasia being legalised, Parliament has refused to pass any laws of (sic) the issue.[4] In 1997, the British Parliament voted 234-89 to defeat the seventh attempt to legalize the act. The Church of England view is that “physician assisted suicide is incompatible with the Christian faith and should not be permitted by civil law.”

Seven attempts!! Good grief. When will these parliamentary representatives learn? Those of us who are part of that public majority are rightly annoyed that our parliamentary representatives are not voting to reflect our wishes. The toothless CofE still seems to have its sticky fingers into our legislative decision making. I suppose the 26 appointed bishops see themselves as arbiters of moral virtue in this island regardless of the increase in atheism in this island.

So far as I am concerned, the Commission’s recommendations are not comprehensive enough. Not that it will matter to me personally. I will exit this life when I am good and ready thank you very much.

It is a shame that Pratchett is not seen as qualifying because he has more than 12 months to live with his dementia, nor is Tony Nicklinson who suffers from locked-in syndrome and will live for more than 12 months. So, from my perspective, the recommendations actually don’t progress this issue very far at all. The unconscionable cruelty and neglect for people’s wishes still exists.

This is from the BBC’s article regarding the Commission’s recommendations:

The commission has been quite clear that a person first of all would have to be terminally ill to be considered for assisted suicide under its proposals.

 The group has defined that as a patient who has less than 12 months to live.

 It said that they should also be acting under their own steam and not be mentally impaired in any way.

 In practice this means that dementia patients would not be eligible, including the author Sir Terry Pratchett, who helped to fund the commission, as those in the final year of the condition would not be considered mentally fit enough.

 Nor would a person who has a significant physical impairment, such as locked-in syndrome, as they would have longer than 12 months to live under normal circumstances.

 But a cancer patient with a prognosis of nine months would be eligible, if he or she met the other criteria.

This is tame stuff indeed. However, the religites have come out in force denouncing anything to do with suicide, assisted or not, as immoral and insupportable under their god’s supposed laws. These laws come, of course, in an ancient book, cobbled together with salient parts omitted by various rulers, by a group of illiterates in ancient lands purporting to be transcribing the word of their god. The rest of us call this fantasy visual and auditory schizophrenia, while the religites call it touched by god. Touched is right!.

I don’t have a problem with organisations like Care Not Killing, emotive though their choice of name is. Neither should they have a problem with

Terry Pratchett good solid citizen

Terry Pratchett’s Dignity in Dying or

Philip Nitschke’s Exit International or a myriad of other Voluntary Euthanasia societies worldwide. People who want to die need the assurance that those assisting them will not be treated as criminals. So yes, the law does need changing. It needs more than the Commission has recommended though. Poor Andrew Colgan

Andrew Colgan by himself

(and how many others) had to travel to Switzerland to Dignitas to end the life he did not want to continue with. And this is the wonderful Terry Pratchett.

It is not that long ago that suicide was a crime in itself. If you failed in your attempt to kill yourself you were charged with a crime and incarcerated. It wasn’t that long ago that having an abortion was a criminal offence. Slowly, very slowly, we are getting rid of religite influence in secular affairs but it is not quick enough for me. Religion’s perceived privileged role, now aided and abetted by the Tories in the sphere of education, is galling to a growing number of us. As well it should.

There is the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society that keep trying to increase public awareness in this country; I wish they had more members and I wish more people spoke out publicly.

Come on you guys, either agree or add a comment. There are so many opinions, surely you have one.

Death and Why Not if that’s What He Wants

Tony Nicklinson - BBC photo

Here we go again. We have a man with locked-in syndrome who is physically unable to end his own life but has stated in absolute terms that he wants to die. He is lucid, determined and is seeking legal guidance regarding the consequences of ‘mercy killing’ and murder.

Why does he have to do this? Because he doesn’t want his wife to be indicted for murder and, of course, neither does she.

The one thing modern society seems able to do, is to raise philosophical issues of so-called ethics that have little to do with cases like this man’s wishes.

Apart from the crappy religite stance or the do-gooder hospice stance regarding the taking one’s own life or assisting someone to take his own life out of compassion, the law seems to throw up obstacles unnecessarily at every twist and turn.

There will never be one law that addresses every situation with cover all provisions. So there must be provision to shield cases like this one of Mr and Mrs Nicklinson against any possibility of criminal proceedings ensuing because of his death.

Of course, ideally there should not be any need to apply to the law seeking ‘guidance’ on whether someone will be charged with murder for aiding and abetting a suicide.

We are supposed to be living in a post-industrialised modern 21st century secular society where we are free to live our lives as we see fit. We all know the laws by which we live in a society and by and large we adhere to sensible laws. We do tend to be vocal against silly laws and this is yet another one. If we, as a society and as law givers, cannot distinguish between murder and assisted suicide in an instance like the Nicklinsons, then we have a poverty-ridden sense of morality, empathy and compassion. And we need to take a position and let our legislators know.

Why is it that if we want to end our lives because of – whatever reason – we come up against an antiquated, religiously motivated, outmoded law that calls such an action criminal?

Mind you, if you succeed at ending your life, there isn’t much anyone can do. In the case of a terminally ill, competent person with a compassionate carer/relative Dignitas is still available; for how long no one really knows.  And you still have to fund your fares and your accommodation while in Switzerland.

The point is that no one should have to go to a foreign country in order to take advantage of a provision that should be accessible in one’s own country.

The interminable interference in private, personal lives and deaths by governments legislating against anything they think will help their cause to be elected next time around is becoming intolerable.

Dr Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke in Australia has taken the cause of euthanasia up with gusto. He has written a book called The Peaceful Pill An e-handbook for those who need assistance with organising their own deaths. He refuses to stop campaigning for End of Life Choices.

He is one of my heroes.