13:16, August 01 265 0 theguardian.com

2018-08-01 13:16:06
Personal experiences around the question of assisted dying law

The decision of the supreme court is rightly described as a “welcome, cautious step” (Editorial, 31 July). It will remove an unnecessarily complicated barrier for families who simply want to have their loved ones’ wishes respected. Crucially it will only apply where there is consensus between the person’s family and medical team, allowing for closer examination by the courts where disputes arise.

To suggest that Monday’s judgment would be dangerous in the context of an assisted dying law is clearly flawed, however. All of the legislative proposals in Westminster have been based on three key safeguards that would prevent a person from having their life ended against their wishes. Firstly, an assisted dying law would only apply to terminally ill adults who have mental capacity and the ability to communicate. Secondly, it would only allow the dying person to request a prescription from a doctor: it would not allow a doctor to directly end the life of a patient, nor would it allow anyone but the dying person to make that decision. Finally, no assisted dying law proposed in the UK would permit a person to make an advance request for an assisted death. The process would have to be started by a dying person, who would directly self-administer the medication at a time of their choosing.

Perhaps most importantly of all, no country or jurisdiction that has allowed assisted dying solely for terminally ill, mentally competent adults has ever expanded these strict criteria to allow the sort of situation your editorial suggests. It is this kind of baseless scaremongering that has denied dying people a real choice in how they die.

Molly Meacher

House of Lords

While I too welcome the “cautious step” taken by the supreme court in clarifying that, where there is agreement between doctors and families, treatment can be withdrawn from patients in a persistent disorder of consciousness (PDOC) without court approval, I disagree with your analysis of assisted dying for terminally ill people.

Following this ruling, the courts will be obliged to continue considering cases where there is any doubt about the best interests of a person with a PDOC. If the courts are qualified to do that – and I believe they are – then they are surely also qualified to provide a safeguarded process for those dying adults who can make a decision for themselves and want the choice of an assisted death. If we’d had those provisions in the UK when my brother John Close was dying of motor neurone disease, he would not have had to make the agonising decision to travel all the way to Dignitas in Switzerland in order to die on his own terms.

Lesley Mary Close

Amersham, Buckinghamshire

In 1971 a junior doctor told me I should let my newborn son die. He’d been born with meningitis. His heart had stopped several times. He was wired for life. “He’ll be a living vegetable if he survives,” I was told. I refused to agree to him being left to die. I refused to leave the hospital. I refused to leave the incubator.

Then the gentle genius paediatrician who was Mr Morris stepped in. He put my hospital bed in his office. His secretary was wonderful and patient. Mr Morris struggled on the tiny baby’s behalf and he survived. A “living vegetable”? Not really. He’s now a well known and hugely respected human rights lawyer fighting for those whose voices need to be heard. If doctors and relatives think someone should be helped to die then go to court and let a third, disinterested, party decide.

Death should never be an easy option.

Carole Stuart-Mc Ivor

Newcastle Emlyn, Carmarthenshire

It is welcome and significant that “Judges will no longer rule in every case on halting life support” (Report, 31 July) so that “when doctors and family agree on treatment, the courts should play no part”. This judgment adds incremental clarity to a complex area and highlights the importance of advance care planning (when possible) and keeping the patients’ “best interests” at the heart of legislation and decision-making (always). After all, if the patients’ best interests are not being served, whose are?

Professor Brendan Kelly

Department of psychiatry, Trinity College Dublin

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