Should physician-assisted dying be legalised?

Sunday 1 November, 12.30pm until 1.30pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery

The question of assisted dying has not been out of the media spotlight in recent months. Although the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was blocked by the House of Lords in 2006, a spate of TV dramas and documentary films have revived the debate about introducing a change to the law to assist terminally ill patients who request the ‘right to die’. Former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt’s recent campaign to amend the Coroners and Justice Bill, campaigner Debbie Purdy’s recent legal victory, and Gordon Brown’s announcement that he is firmly opposed, have kept the issue in the headlines.

Proponents of assisted dying aim to give people the ability to control their destiny. But many are also concerned that loosening the law would be a slippery slope leading to an increasing prevalence of assisted suicide, and would open the door to euthanasia. Others worry a change to the law would signal a cultural acceptance of suicide more generally. Critics, both secular and religious, oppose any new legislation. They emphasise the value of life and argue for a focus on prolonging life or on palliative care, suggesting that legalising assisted dying would irretrievably transform the relationship between doctors and patients. Advocates of assisted dying retort that legalisation would allow the practice to be publicly regulated and scrutinised. Does the right to die at the time and manner that one wishes follow directly from the right to choose how one lives? Or should suicide always be discouraged? How does the concept of ‘dignity’ fit in to this discussion? And why has the assisted dying debate come to assume such cultural and political importance in recent years?

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Brendan O'Neill
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays

Debbie Purdy
board member, Dignity in Dying; leading campaigner for right to assisted dying

Professor Raymond Tallis
fellow, Academy of Medical Sciences; author, philosopher, critic and poet; recent books include NHS SOS and Aping Mankind; chair, Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying

Dr Kevin Yuill
senior lecturer, history, University of Sunderland; author, Assisted Suicide: the liberal, humanist case against legalization

Helen Birtwistle
history and politics teacher, South London school

Produced by
Helen Birtwistle history and politics teacher, South London school
Recommended readings
Why I changed my mind on assisted dying

As a doctor I used to think palliative care was the answer. Now I realise that keeping people alive can be unspeakably cruel.

Raymond Tallis, The Times, 27 October 2009

For pity’s sake, keep the assisted suicide law unclear

The terminally ill Chris Woodhead wants a way out but says the new guidelines may hinder rather than help.

Chris Woodhead, Sunday Times, 27 September 2009

It’s my life and I demand to end it when I want

Seventy years ago Sigmund Freud’s doctor helped him to die. Now more and more of us want that same final choice.

David Aaronovitch, The Times, 23 September 2009

Assisted suicide: the real slippery slope

A court case in Montana suggests that once you give the ‘right to die’ to terminally ill people, others will want it, too.

Kevin Yuill, spiked, 8 September 2009

'Physician assisted suicide should remain illegal'

Debating Matters Topic Guide: 'Ultimately, the debate is a moral one which, aside from the legal and medical issues, asks us to decide whether it is ever right for doctors to assist someone in bringing about their own death.'

Helen Birtwistle, Debating Matters, 1 September 2009

Should we have the right to die?

Debbie Purdy on why the 'right to die' ruling will help her live her life, while Brendan O'Neill says the right-to-die lobby is now a cause celebre and that assisted suicide is admitting defeat and killing hope...

Debbie Purdy and Brendan O'Neill, Big Issue, 13 August 2009

We need to take a wider view of 'the right to die'

It is right that doctors should fear the approbation of society when they take a life, for whatever reason. Society can be sympathetic when someone is on the edge of the bridge. But society should not cheer the push that sends that person to their death.

Shirley Dent, Independent Minds blog, 3 August 2009

Why I’m opposed to legalising assisted suicide

I will take my death into my own hands. The State has no business giving me the authority to die – or the authority to live

Matthew Parris, The Times, 1 August 2009

Huge public support for change in law to allow the right to die

Almost three quarters (74 per cent) of people want doctors to be allowed to help terminally ill patients to end their lives. Support is particularly strong among those aged 55 to 64.

Rosemary Bennett, The Times, 25 July 2009

Neither euthanasia nor suicide, but end-of-life choice

Emotive denunciations have blurred the issue. We need clear laws that allow assisted death as a rational, humane option

Sarah Wootton, Guardian, 23 June 2009

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