The Facts: An Overview

Key Issues

  1. Advocates for assisted suicide or euthanasia laws frequently point to cases of poor palliative care, often decades old and focus on fear of the dying process. However, current, best practice, palliative care can successfully manage pain and other distressing symptoms at the end of life.
  2. It is impossible to legislate safely to take life, without opening the door to rogue practitioners, and putting vulnerable people at risk, including those with psychiatric disorders, the disabled and the elderly.
  3. No law can exclude a mistaken diagnosis or errors in prognosis. Not all doctors are aware of all available, effective treatments. Often the doctor providing assisted suicide has no long term relationship with the patient and so may lack knowledge of the patient's full medical history, current management, mental state and family relationships. Doctor shopping for a doctor willing to "tick the boxes" and provide assisted suicide on request rather than engage in a genuine doctor-patient relationship becomes the norm.
  4. Ill people often feel that they are a burden on others making them vulnerable to overt or subtle manipulation. This may be from family members exhausted with managing serious illness or from heirs impatient for an inheritance. Not all families are benign or caring. Pressure may be from medical professionals lacking clinical skills or with an zealous, ideological commitment to assisted suicide and euthanasia.
  5. Laws permitting assisted suicide contradict public health messages which seek to encourage those with depression or suicidal thoughts to seek help by carving out an exception for whole categories of people from otherwise universal suicide prevention plans, and normalising suicide as a rational, wise choice.
  6. The evidence from all fifteen experiments in legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia tried since 1996 shows that these experiments are fatally flawed and that assisted suicide or euthanasia laws cannot be made safe.

Legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia crosses a serious ethical ‘line in the sand’ with serious consequences for patients and the practice of medicine. It is not progressive, but a regression to a poorer standard of medicine, focused on quick solutions and convenience.

Changing the laws to permit assisted suicide or euthanasia is unnecessary, unsafe, unfair, and ill-informed.

The wiser approach is to work towards a society where assisted suicide and euthanasia are unthinkable because:

  • all have access to best practice palliative care, through wider dissemination of palliative care skills and knowledge among health practitioners and better integration of palliative care in all health services;
  • disabled persons have equitable access to health care and are supported to live their lives to the full as valued members of the community;
  • suicide prevention strategies and services  offer hope to any person with suicidal ideation, including those with declining physical health; and
  • the elderly are protected from all forms of elder abuse, including any pressure to see themselves as an unwanted burden.
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