Let terminally ill choose assisted death, says review


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Anyone with a terminal illness who is likely to die within 12 months, is of sound mind and has a settled intention to die should have the choice of an assisted death, a landmark report says today.

The Commission on Assisted Dying says the current law is "inadequate and incoherent" and should not continue. The proposed new law would apply only to people who were terminally ill, not to those who were physically disabled, such as Daniel James, the paralysed rugby player who ended his life, aged 23, at the Swiss clinic Dignitas in 2008.

The privately organised inquiry, chaired by Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, says the current law is distressing for the people affected and their families, unclear for health and social care staff and burdensome for police and prosecutors.

The inquiry proposes a new legal framework with strict criteria for who might be eligible for an assisted death and robust safeguards to prevent abuse.

Organisations opposed to assisted suicide attacked the findings. Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of Care Not Killing, branded the review "unnecessary, biased and flawed".

Lord Falconer said although assisted suicide was outlawed in the UK it was frequently allowed to take place without any protection to support people at a vulnerable time. It was open only to people with the means to have their wishes carried out, such as by travelling to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Those without resources had been forced to take their lives early, for fear that their loved ones might be prosecuted if they assisted them when they became incapable, and botched suicides had been the result.

The review was funded by Sir Terry Pratchett, the best-selling novelist who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease in 2007. It took evidence from 40 expert witnesses and heard statements from 1,200 people

Its independence was criticised, however, after the British Medical Journal pointed out that nine of the 12 commissioners had publicly supported a change in the law to allow assisted suicide and the British Medical Association and more than 50 other organisations refused to submit evidence to it.

Two independent doctors would be required to ratify patients who met the criteria and ensure all other options for end of life care had been explained to them. The patients would be able to ask their doctor for a lethal dose of medication which they would have to take themselves to demonstrate it was a voluntary choice.