Yvonne Roberts: We should be allowed to choose how we die

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The Independent Online

Then, of course, we acquired commitments; we grew less certain about what was meant by the "right" time. We witnessed one or two loved ones whom in terrible physical discomfort, desperately hung on to life.

We grew up sufficiently to realise that, for some, there is never a "right" time because, even as they took their last breath, death was unthinkable. So, the numbers of us who would volunteer to play the Grim Reaper have melted away. But, perhaps, help is at hand .

Last week the British Medical Association (BMA) dropped its opposition to doctor-assisted suicide. Lord Joffe plans to reintroduce his Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill which ran out of time before the general election.

MPs and peers are likely to be given a free vote on a Bill that makes it clear that doctors will not be expected to administer a fatal dose but could provide suffering terminal patients with the means to end their own lives.

The hypocrisy of which the United Kingdom is so fond, sadly, shows no signs of being bumped off. Already, almost everyone knows someone who knows a medical person who eased the passage of a dying man or woman. Now that act of humanity is to become legitimised - but only as long as a daft protocol is maintained.

Instead, we should be making a decision now on the tricky ethical challenges which we will have to confront once euthanasia becomes law, however restricted. Medical advances and "progress" have brought longevity for some but not happiness; more is not necessarily better. My great aunt is 104, deaf and unable to walk, but perfectly capable of not welcoming another birthday telegram from the Queen, thank you very much. Instead, she would much prefer to say her good-byes and depart.

Another relative, almost 90, has Alzheimer's. She has a close and loving family. She lives in a a high quality old peoples' home but in the days of her prime, she would have been the first to say that she would not have wanted to exist in this living death.

Of course, the right to kill gives powers that can be abused. The weak and the vulnerable are left even weaker and more vulnerable. Relatives can despatch family members and cash in; carers can dispense with husbands or wives because they've had enough. While a weirdness pervades those who become "facilitators", designing death-inducing machines, calling time on their fellow human beings. But, as grown-ups, we have to provide checks and balances to try and ensure that fairness prevails.

In the Netherlands, assisted suicide has been widely practised, including on newborn infants suffering from spina bifida and other disabilities, for 30 years although only made legal in 2002. Since the passage of the Death with Dignity Act in Oregon, USA, 11 years ago, permitting physician-assisted suicide (PAS), numbers opting for the exit door have remained at around one in 800 deaths.

In Oregon, concerns about loss of autonomy and the ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable are important motivating factors for patients requesting lethal medication. Ironically, as a result of PAS, Oregon doctors are also improving palliative care of the terminally ill; increasing the use of hospices and intervening more positively and proactively in psychiatric illnesses.

Last year, when her quality of life was slipping away, our spaniel received an injection and died peacefully: lucky dog.