Sunday, January 29

In the face of “inhumane” suicides, an assisted death project advances in the United Kingdom

With some emotion in her voice, Baroness Molly Meacher recounts how her aunt, suffering from painful liver cancer, secretly killed herself by taking “tons of pills and whiskey” one night.

“It is terribly sad to die like this, alone at night, without saying goodbye, without even being able to tell her husband,” who discovered her in the morning, says this member of the House of Lords, the upper house of the British Parliament.

Why didn’t you ask for help? Because the British law, which prohibits assisted suicide, punishes anyone who collaborates in it with up to 14 years in prison.

“It’s inhumane,” says Meacher, who has introduced a bill to legalize what British activists prefer to call “assisted death” for terminally ill patients diagnosed with less than six months to live by two doctors and after approval of a judge.

In 2015, the British already unsuccessfully raised the issue. But, following the trend in other countries where legislation is evolving, “the lines are now moving in the right direction,” according to Sarah Wootton of the “Dying with Dignity” association.

In mid-September, the influential British Medical Association (BMA) finally dropped its opposition to the practice, adopting a neutral position, in a “historic step” according to the associations.

Activist Alex Pandolfo argues that the legislation “must change immediately” to end “discriminatory practices.” “Assisted suicide already exists for the privileged,” says this sixty-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. “Those who can spend 10,000 pounds on hotels, flights and so on can now go elsewhere to die,” he says.

In order not to “go through the same thing as his father”, who agonized for five years with multiple system atrophy, he has already organized his own assisted suicide in Switzerland, where he has accompanied a hundred Britons in recent years.

But he prefers to do it in England, so he can be with his loved ones and help them start their grieving process.

“I’m in no rush to die,” he jokes. “But they gave me a death sentence in 2015” with the diagnosis and “all I ask is that you help me die when it’s unbearable, that you speed things up.”

With good humor, this white-haired man explains from his sofa in Lancaster, in the north of England, how the disease is already having “a considerable impact on his quality of life”, affecting his memory, his motor skills, his ability to talk, to drive, to watch a football match.

However, he could not qualify for euthanasia according to the criteria of the current bill, because “he will no longer have all his mental capacities” when he has six months to live, he laments.

Aware of the limits of her text, Meacher defends a “political decision based on realism” for a bill that, according to her, even then has little chance of being approved.

Resistance is strong in this “rather conservative” country, especially from religious dignitaries and believers.

In a parliamentary hearing, Anglican Church leader Justin Welby said euthanasia could put vulnerable people under pressure. He also said he feared a “misdiagnosis” in statements to the BBC.

According to a YouGov poll carried out in August, 73% of Britons are in favor of doctors being able to help a terminally ill person die, but this opinion is only shared by a third of MPs.

If it doesn’t pass, “the text will still have allowed the issue to be raised,” says Wootton, noting that a similar bill in Scotland has a much better chance of succeeding. It would be “unsustainable in the long term” if assisted suicide “were legal in one part of the country and not in another,” he says.

Even the neighboring and very Catholic Republic of Ireland is studying the issue, which gives Pandolfo hope of making progress that will alleviate the concern of the sick, as he did when his case was accepted in Switzerland.

“I stopped worrying about my death and began to enjoy what life can still bring me,” he says.