Should we have the right to choose death?

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THE way we choose to live our lives is seen as a basic human right. But choosing when you want to die is a totally different matter.

It’s something that polarises opinions and sparks debate no matter what your views and experience are.

Today MPs voted against enshrining the right to die in British law, blocking the second reading of the Assisted Dying Bill by 330 to 118, majority 212, in an historic Commons vote.

Before the vote, health reporter PRIYA MISTRY spoke to people about their views on the issue.

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Suella Fernandes, MP for Fareham

‘I HAVE received more than 100 letters and emails from constituents on this bill - urging me to vote both in favour and against - and so I know how strongly many people about this important issue.

After carefully taking into account my constituents’ (including patients and their families) views I have also listened to doctors and, in particular, specialists in palliative care, end-of-life teams and hospices.

I have learnt the stories of hundreds of people who have been in this difficult situation.

I have also borne in mind my own experience in caring for my seriously-infirm grandmother during the last years of her life, and how I witnessed her health and quality of life decline.

After weighing up all of these matters, I have decided I will vote against the bill.

‘I am aware my decision may disappoint some people, however I wish to reassure people I have researched the issue comprehensively and I appreciate people’s concern on this very sensitive issue.

I am against the bill for three main reasons.

Firstly, I am not persuaded there is sufficient protection in place to prevent inappropriate use of the right.

We must accept there can never be sufficient safeguards once the state legalises one type of death at the hands of another.

Secondly, international experience shows this kind of legislation is being used for reasons other than pain, by people who are not terminally ill and by other people.

In Oregon, USA, 40 per cent of those requesting to end their life do so because they feel a burden on friends and family – nothing to do with being in pain.

And finally, the overwhelming expert and professional opinion opposes assisted dying.

This includes the British Medical Association, and charity Scope.

It’s understandable people fear being disabled and dying for themselves or their loved ones.

Everyone would agree terminally-ill patients should receive the highest quality palliative support and end-of-life care, and they and their families should be certain their end-of-life care will meet all of their needs.

With that in mind, I welcome the Department of Health’s end-of-life care strategy which is intended to improve access to good quality palliative care and encourage the government further to develop specialist palliative care and hospice provision.

Coping with terminal illness is distressing and difficult both for the patient and their families.

However, an acceptance of assisted dying not only carries the risk of the right to die developing into a duty to die.

It makes way for the inadvertent sanitisation of death.’

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Cheryl Anderson, in remission from cancer

CHERYL Anderson volunteers for Look Good, Feel Better.

It’s a beauty workshop run in the Macmillan Cancer Centre at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, for women whose appearance has been altered due to cancer treatments.

She was diagnosed with the disease in November 2010 and has been in remission since.

The 66-year-old says: ‘This is not something you can generalise and is very much an individual decision.

‘I think it depends on the type of illness or disease you have and how degenerative it would be for them.

‘And although you may express a wish for assisted dying, when it comes down to it you may not be able to make that decision. What then?’

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Ruth White, chief executive of the Rowans Hospice

‘CONCERNS related to the Liverpool Care in Dying Pathway and others have been prominent in the media where health professionals have been accused of depriving people of life-sustaining treatments and, specifically, the withdrawal of food and fluids.

I have a deep concern on how a change in law would affect the therapeutic relationship between the patient and the healthcare professional, and how the prescribing of a lethal cocktail would feel for the doctor who writes the script and the nurse who delivers?

What is the long-term effect on those who are given this ‘power’ and how will the bereaved be left feeling?

Research from other countries indicates that many doctors who have participated in euthanasia and/or physician-assisted suicide are adversely-affected emotionally and psychologically by their experiences.

Doctors involved in hospice care prescribe medicines to support well-being and to relieve suffering. Not always easy but striving to support a dignified and peaceful death is of paramount importance and should never be distracted from.

Official polls by medical professionals show the majority of doctors oppose such a bill and in those who work in end-of-life care, palliative medicine, this is more than 90 per cent of physicians.

Euthanasia is a debate for society and an individual’s choice. I don’t speak out against those who wish euthanasia to be an option for them, I question whether euthanasia could sit outside of healthcare and with the courts instead.’

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Dr Jon Price, Southsea GP

‘ASSISTED dying is one of the most difficult questions of our age.

There are understandably some awful and tragic cases of people wanting to end their lives.

But these are exceptional cases and I don’t think it will help a significant amount of people.

In fact I think passing this law would make it significantly worse.

You may have people asking for assisted dying for the wrong reasons – such as they feel they are a burden on their family and therefore it’s better they die.

We don’t want that to happen and it does happen in other countries where euthanasia is offered.

I also think patients wouldn’t know what to make of it and most doctors will be against it.

Legally it would be almost impossible to safeguard those in the situation.

As much as doctors may try to prolong life, it’s also about the quality of life and so I would rather focus on the quality of end-of-life care.

This means helping someone have a peaceful and dignified death if a person has reached the stage where that is naturally going to happen.

This is very different to assisting someone to die.

I wouldn’t be comfortable at all being called up by a court to discuss if a patient should die.

I also think it would confuse what the role of a doctor actually means.

Doctors in the community see a lot of vulnerable elderly people, and it may confuse patients as they may not know what the doctor is thinking on things.

I wouldn’t willingly hasten someone’s death.

A doctor’s role isn’t to prolong life forever more.

But an important part is to make people feel comfortable and that’s where the focus should be. Focus on palliative and end-of-life care.

That’s different from assisting death, which is illegal.’

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Sally Vickers, fighting Hepatitis C

SALLY Vickers knows she may not have much more time left to live as she battles with two life-threatening conditions.

The 53-year-old, of Railway View, Landport, had a transfusion aged 14, but found out 30 years later that tainted blood meant she had hepatitis C.

She, like hundreds of other patients in the UK, is living with a disease given to her through no fault of her own.

She also battles with hereditary spherocytosis, which causes her to have a severely-enlarged spleen.

Mrs Vickers believes people should have the choice to die, but it needs to be strictly monitored.

She says: ‘Last time I checked I believe what people are talking about is suicide.

‘People should have a choice, but I think it will be very difficult to keep an eye on.

‘For me it’s about quality of life – if I can still walk and talk and get about then I’m fine.

‘But I think if my quality of life went and I was just laying there, then I think the option may come into play.

‘This bill would basically be legal suicide.

‘Who are we play God and help those who make a decision they want to end their lives?

‘Also you would need to check the person deciding was of sound mind when making such a decision.

‘And there’s obviously no going back once it happens, and that can impact an entire family, not just the person making the choice.

‘I watched my brother decline and that was hard.

‘Living and dying are very personal things and people react to things in different ways.

‘For some people, being told they have a life-threatening, progressive or terminal illness, gives them a boost to live life to the full and to fight for their lives.’

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