MPs are, at this moment, debating a Bill in the UK Parliament which – If approved – would allow someone with less than six months left to live to end their life with the help of a doctor, so long as this was their “clear and settled intention”.
Earlier in the year a similar Bill in Scotland was defeated at Holyrood by 82 votes to 36.
Critics of the Scottish Bill raised concerns over the lack of safeguards afforded to vulnerable adults contemplating assisted dying, and the Law Society of Scotland described the Bill as unclear and ill defined – rendering the legislation “open to interpretation.”
The misapprehension held by some is that assisted dying will amount to the pressing of a button and the ending of a life prematurely. This is a dangerous misinterpretation.
Should the Bill receive Ministers’ approval, an individual meeting the criteria for consideration will be subjected to a rigorous assessment by medical professionals. The right to assisted dying would only relate to those individuals in severe discomfort, with less than six months to live, without any quality of life and with the mental capacity to make the decision.
This is, of course, an incredibly emotional debate; contemplations on death and dying elicit a plethora of emotions in us, and it’s no surprise that every sector of society has issued their own pleas to Ministers in anticipation of today’s debate. The public discussion has brought to the fore a myriad of opinions – from the genuinely illuminating to the extraordinarily ignorant.
But the very fact that our society can hold an argument over the sanctity of life and dignity in death is something remarkable in itself. I, for one, am reassured that there is impassioned resistance to accept this seismic shift in our approach to the final stages of life and individual autonomy – not because I’m against the principle of assisted dying, but because it demonstrates a genuine concern and engagement over how we treat the most vulnerable members of our society.
Apathy and indifference are the enemies here.
If the end result of this inordinate pressure on Ministers today is the creation of a legal mechanism for assisted dying that affords comprehensively robust safeguards and protections to those in a terminal situation, it will have served an incredibly important purpose.