Assisted Suicide Option Will Give Control to Dying Patients

Article excerpt

Assisted suicide is an emotive subject which has divided both patient and professional opinion. In a special series, Health Wales asked medical professionals and patients on both sides of the debate to argue the case for and against the legalisation of assisted suicide in the UK. Ken Jones who has prostate cancer, tells Health Editor Madeleine Brindley why choosing how to die is the ultimate freedom

SO FAR I have managed to keep my aggressive prostate cancer at bay.

But now it is only a matter of time. Prostate cancer has been described as a sensationally awful way to die, though there are some lucky exceptions.

I know of terminally ill people who regretted at death that they hadn't made their own graceful exit earlier instead of later, when no longer physically able, they have to beg unavailingly for their deliverance.

That's the cruel dilemma the present law inflicts on the terminally ill.

The evidence clearly shows that in places where voluntary assisted suicide is available many people like me say that its very availability is greatly comforting - just knowing they have the option gives them peace of mind.

Some people argue that we do not need assisted dying because we have palliative care.

But unfortunately there is nothing infallible about even the best palliative care, and it is clear from the numbers of terminally ill people travelling overseas for an assisted death that the law is not working for everyone.

As my friends who are hospice nurses tell me, for some of us dying can be a very messy and distressing affair, however good the care.

Even when the physical pain can be diminished, many experience great distress from the side effects of the drugs and from their own helpless condition.

All supporters of Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill (ADTI) Bill want to see the very best palliative care available to all, but with the option - in extreme cases of 'unbearable suffering' - for a terminally ill person to be given the means of taking our own lives.

Note, also, that in Oregon in the USA, and the Netherlands, where assisted dying for the terminally ill is legal, there has been an increase in the quality and quantity of hospice and palliative care since its introduction.

Palliative care and assisted suicide are therefore complementary and not opposed, and many doctors appreciate this.

Sir Graeme Cato, president of the General Medical Council, no less, assured the House of Lords that, 'It would be perfectly possible to proceed along the lines considered in the Bill without in any way impeding the progress and desirable developments in palliative care.'

Opponents of the Bill warn about vulnerable patients being bullied into suicide. They forget the opportunity for abuse and unsafe back street suicides which exist at present, which the ADTI Bill could remedy.

In fact, no other end of life legislation (such as the right to refuse further treatment) has so many safeguards as this Bill - the patient must be mentally competent, and their request well-informed, persistent and voluntary, with palliative care options fully explored. …