The right to decide when you want to die, otherwise known as euthanasia, is a really touchy subject for a great number of people. While we are more than willing to let our pets go when their pain is incurable we don’t let ourselves have that right. I still remember arguing the pro side of euthanasia in my high school law class and even then, and among a class of young people, tempers got a little carried away.
For 800 terminally ill people in Britain though that has been an easy decision that they made with the help of the controversial Swiss clinic Dignitas. It’s not an easy process to go through so it’s not like you wake up one day and phone up Dignitas to make an appointment to die with some dignity. Of the 800 who have joined Dignitas 34 men and women have begun to make their preparations to travel to Switzerland.
One of the 34 is due to undertake an accompanied suicide very soon. Four have already secured fixed dates for their deaths, but adjourned them. The remaining 29 have not yet arranged a specific date.
A further four British people failed to get Dignitas’s permission after the Swiss doctor who examines all applicants said they should not be helped, either because they did not have an incurable illness or were judged not of sound enough mind to reach such a decision.
Source: Guardian Online
The major roadblock for the families of these people is that if they accompany their family member to Dignitas they could very well be arrested upon returning to Britain. Since 1961 the Suicide Act in the country criminalizes anyone who aids, abets, counsels or procures someone else’s suicide. Some relatives of people who have already travelled to Dignitas have been questioned by the police on returning to Britain.
However there is a move by some very prominent people with medical and legal backgrounds who are pushing to have this law repealed.
The peers – led by Lord Falconer, a former lord chancellor, and Baroness Jay, a former leader of the House of Lords – will table an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill in an attempt to lift the threat of prosecution from people in England and Wales who want to support someone in their final moments.
“It’s a tragic anomaly that people who are giving a last loving assistance to a loved one find themselves under threat of 14 years’ imprisonment if they do,” Jay said last night. “Having made the very difficult decision to travel abroad to somewhere like Switzerland, where assisted dying is legal, someone would want the sort of support they would expect here from a husband, wife or loved one. The law in this area is a fudge and parliamentarians are lagging behind public opinion on this.”
Dignitas figures show that 15 Britons took their lives there in 2003, 26 in 2006, 8 in the first five months of 2008 as well as 23 in the past twelve months.