On Monday 13th November, Dignity in Dying released a report on the plight of dying people who travel from Britain to have an assisted death in Switzerland.
Kit Malthouse MP, who chairs the All Party Group on Choice at the End of Life, wrote the report’s foreword and leads the campaign in Parliament for a change in the law.
In the foreword, the North West Hampshire MP, wrote; “It wasn’t long after I was elected as an MP that one of my constituents was assisted to die at Life Circle, another Swiss right-to-die organisation. I only learned of this afterwards when her partner came to see me, passionate in his desire to help others through the practical difficulties of the process. I can only guess how many more constituents may have made that terrible journey, or how many have investigated it but were unable to travel. Tragically it’s also impossible to know how many other dying people in my constituency have taken their own lives at home, traumatically, without the support of their doctors. It is certain that many more have suffered the misery of an agonising and protracted death.”
At present it is a crime to encourage or assist suicide. It carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. If someone provides encouragement or assistance, that is a crime, even if the person ends their life overseas.
With end-of-life choice limited under the current law in the UK, many people seek to arrange an assisted death in Switzerland, with organisations such as Dignitas.
The research uncovered real experiences of people who have been affected by this issue and explores the reality of the prohibition of assisted dying in the UK.
The report found that:
· The average cost of obtaining an assisted death overseas is £10,000. This means that the majority of people in the UK cannot afford to have one.
· The requirement to be physically able to travel to Switzerland to have an assisted death means that people are ending their lives much sooner than they might otherwise choose to.
· Dying people need the help of friends and family to make the arrangements for an assisted death, yet any assistance provided is against the law.
· Dying people who want to exercise choice at the end of life are subjected to a lottery when it comes to the level of cooperation they can expect from healthcare professionals.
· For dying people who seek to arrange an assisted death overseas these factors raise anxiety and reduce quality of life. For some, these factors have forced them to endure suffering against their wishes.
At the report’s launch, Kit said: “This report shines a light where too few policy makers have dared to look. With no other safe option, many people in this country experience unimaginable suffering at the end of their lives. The findings are shocking, but they offer only a glimpse of what is a deep well of anguish.
Over 80% of Britons support a change in the law, but this report highlights how our outdated legislation discriminates between rich and poor, discourages proper conversations between patients and their doctors, criminalises grieving relatives who spend time with their loved ones in their dying moments and obliges people to end their lives before they are ready.
With the USA, Canada, Australia and several European countries all having grasped the nettle of assisted dying, our lack of action in the face of profound suffering will be a black mark against us in years to come.
It’s time that the UK stopped outsourcing its compassion to Switzerland and began listening to dying people who want and need the most basic choice they will ever face.”