We need UK politicians to show bravery on assisted dying

by guest writer Carrie Hynds*


Carrie Hynds, board member of My Death, My Decision (MDMD) and co-chair of the newly founded Assisted Dying Coalition, explains MDMDs envisaged assisted dying model and the Coalition’s political goals.

My Death, My Decision (MDMD) campaigns for the option of a medically assisted death for mentally competent adults with incurable medical conditions which permanently reduce their quality of life below the level they are able to accept, provided this is their own, well considered, persistent wish. We believe that individual choice and patient autonomy must be at the heart of a change in the law. There is no set list of medical conditions that we can say are unbearable – each person’s perception of quality of life is completely individual and only the patient can determine when they’ve had enough.

The last time Westminster voted on the issue of assisted dying was the Marris Bill in 2015. It was heavily defeated, and had it passed would have only applied to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live. MDMD does not believe that the choice of an assisted death should be restricted in this way because it wouldn’t safeguard against coercion; it would just limit the number of people who would be helped by a change in the law. We need to secure the right to choose for people in similar positions to Tony Nicklinson, Omid and Debbie Purdy as well as early-stage dementia patients who still have mental capacity.

It is time to look at alternative safeguards. MDMD’s suggestion is to have two doctors confirm that the patient has been offered all other forms of treatment/palliative care and has made a settled decision. We are also exploring the idea of a Statement of Wishes so that individuals can indicate over time that they would like this choice in the future.

In February 2019, MDMD became a founding member of the Assisted Dying Coalition, together with Friends at the End (FATE), Humanists UK, Humanist Society of Scotland, End of Life Choices Jersey und MDMD Medical Group (MD.MG). This is a coalition of organisations working in favour of legal recognition in the UK and Crown dependencies of the right to die for individuals who have a clear and settled wish to end their life and who are terminally ill or facing incurable suffering. We believe that a co-ordinated approach is best, working together on legal challenges and political lobbying in support of our joint aim.

Section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 states that it is an offence to encourage or assist suicide, punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. This law was created 58 years ago and looks increasingly out of date. Following the Debbie Purdy case, in 2010 the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) issued guidelines outlining which factors are taken into account to determine whether it is in the public interest to pursue prosecution for assisting another person’s suicide.

The DPP guidelines brought a welcome level of clarity, but there are several obvious limitations.

1. Even if all of the factors tending against prosecution are met, there is no outright exemption: those who compassionately accompany friends or family members for a medically assisted death abroad, in countries where it is legal, still face the possibility of prosecution upon their return to the UK. This has most recently been highlighted by the case of Geoff and Ann Whaley.

2. The DPP guidelines do nothing to address the pressure that the doctor–patient relationship is put under. Indeed, if “the suspect was acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse [or] other healthcare professional,” this is a factor in favour of prosecution. This means that patients cannot have open conversations with their doctors and medical professionals potentially put themselves at risk by supplying records or mental capacity assessments if they suspect their patient is seeking a medically assisted death abroad.

3. The DPP guidelines are not written into law and could be overturned by the current or any future incoming Director of Public Prosecutions.

Perhaps the way forward in Westminster will be a stepping-stone piece of legislation which will seek to resolve one or more of these issues.

Ultimately, we are asking politicians to listen to the overwhelming public support for a change in the law. If you are based in the UK and would like to support the campaign, please sign our petition.

In 1967, the bravery of backbench MP David Steel combined with cross-party support led to the passing of the Abortion Act. We now need similar levels of bravery and cross-party support from UK politicians to change the law on assisted dying.


*Carrie Hynds is a campaigner for a change in assisted dying law in the UK. For the past two years, she has been a board member of My Death, My Decision, and she is co-chair of the newly formed Assisted Dying Coalition. Carrie stood as the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Hove in the 2017 general election and is actively involved in grassroots politics in Brighton & Hove.



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