Many concerned individuals have been making their views known to the media...
Following our feature on the first anniversary of the Joffe Bill's defeat, many concerned individuals - including Care Not Killing members - sent in their views to the newspapers. The Independent in particular, which last week covered the issue of assisted suicide with a front-page feature, received many letters...
Alison Davies, a patient with spina bifida, hydrocephalus, osteoporosis and emphysema:
Sir: Your article "The right to choose death" (8 May) was little short of an advertisement for the Dignitas clinic, and a propaganda exercise to persuade suffering and terminally ill people that they will be "dignified" only in death.
I have spina bifida, hydrocephalus, osteoporosis and emphysema, and I use a wheelchair full-time. I am paralysed below the waist, and have no feeling in the right side of my body. I am also doubly incontinent. I suffer severe spinal pain daily, which is not well controlled, even with morphine. When the pain is at its worst I cannot think, move or speak. There is no prospect of recovery, and the pain has been getting steadily worse.
In the mid 1980s, when I was suffering similar pain and doctors (mistakenly as it turned out) thought I didn't have long to live, I decided I wanted to die. It was a settled wish that lasted more than 10 years, and during the first five of those years I several times made serious attempts to end my own life. I was saved only because friends found me in time and had me taken to hospital, where I was treated against my will.
Had assisted suicide or euthanasia been available then, I would definitely have requested it. Had the Dignitas clinic existed then, I would have found a way to go there. I would then have missed the best years of my life, and no one would ever have known that the doctors were wrong in thinking I didn't have long to live, and that the future held something better for me.
Suffering people need better than being encouraged to see death as the best (or only) option. What we need is help and support to live with dignity, until we die naturally.
Simone Aspis of the United Kingdom's Disabled Peoples Council (UKDPC):
Sir: The United Kingdom's Disabled Peoples Council sees no need to introduce assisted dying legislation in the UK. We need to look at the circumstances which disabled people find themselves in when wanting the desire to die.
The individuals in some recently publicised cases were relying on 24-hour support seven days a week by their partner with no or minimal assistance provided by public services. Such circumstances can make disabled people feel a burden on their families.
Whilst disabled people experience pain, there is excellent palliative care which allows one to live with dignity during the terminal stages of a life-limiting illness. The problem is that there is not enough of the provision which ought to give disabled people greater quality of life. We fear if assisted dying becomes legal, disabled people will be under more pressure to consider assisted dying rather than palliative care and independent living support.
Claud Regnard, palliative care consultant:
Sir: Assisted suicide seems such a simple solution. Some people with terminal illness suffer, so why not enable them to die sooner if they wish? Unfortunately, the solutions are not so simple.
Who would prescribe the drugs? Ninety-four per cent of palliative care specialists oppose a change in the law, and opposition from the BMA and several Royal Colleges reflects the refusal of the majority of doctors to become involved.
Where would patients die? Published experience in the Netherlands shows individual doctors help patients die so infrequently that nearly a third of patients develop complications, including waking in a distressed state. The alternative of a few geographically distant "dying" clinics run by non-medical experts is unlikely to gain acceptance.
What are the safeguards? Lord Joffe's previous Bill proposed a 14-day opt-out period, but depression and other symptoms can take more than two weeks to treat. There are patients alive today with a good quality of life who would have died unnecessarily under Joffe's Bill simply because their response to treatment would have fallen outside the two-week limit.
If supporters of assisted suicide had spent a fraction of their undoubted passion in promoting wider access to palliative care, they would have already successfully supported many more patients than they can ever hope to aid by promoting a fundamentally flawed approach.
Margaret Ellam, retired palliative medicine consultant:
Sir: Your article on physician-assisted suicide repeats the usual arguments for this procedure to be available in Britain. As a recently retired consultant in palliative medicine, my view would be against such legislation, but that is not the point I wish to make here.
If society decides this is an option that should be available, then society must take responsibility for achieving these deaths. There would be no need for doctors to be involved.
What would be needed? Obviously good secretarial skills, probably with mandatory legal training. The dosages of the lethal cocktail could easily be calculated from height and weight tables. The same type of drugs would be used each time and a competent technician could control their supply.
When abortion became freely available, many of us anticipated its widespread use in society. But we realised that the necessary surgery could be done only by trained gynaecologists. Drinking a large dose of barbiturates needs no medical supervision .
Doctors should not be made the scapegoats for those wanting access to euthanasia. All of us are ageing slowly, and if a person whose death is only months away can be "put to sleep" by society then, logically, it must be available for any of us. Only please don't ask doctors, who have spent years training to control and relieve disease, to be the agents facilitating suicide.
Peter Saunders, Care Not Killing campaign director:
Sir: The case of Diane Pretty (8 May), who died naturally after seeking assisted suicide for motor neurone disease five years ago this week, is sad but very unusual. About 1,000 people with this condition die every year in the UK, and most do not ask to have their lives intentionally ended.
In fact, requests for assisted suicide are extremely rare when patients' physical, psychological and spiritual needs are properly met. This should prompt us to call for the excellent standard of palliative care available to some in this country to be made more readily accessible to all. To this end, Baroness Finlay's Palliative Care Bill, now before the House of Lords, deserves our full support.
Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, which attempted to legalise assisted suicide, suffered a resounding 148-100 defeat in the Lords last year because peers realised that a change in the law to allow assisted dying would have placed subtle pressure on vulnerable people - the sick, disabled, elderly or depressed - to request early death.
To change the law for a few who persist in their request for euthanasia, despite receiving the best palliative care, would put a much larger number of others at risk.
We continue to encourage Care Not Killing supporters to make their views known to the media.
Care Not Killing