20 May 2024, 16:40

Assisted dying debate hits close to home for UK

LONDON, May 20, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - The UK faced renewed pressure on
Monday to reconsider its assisted dying laws, as surrounding jurisdictions move
closer to granting terminally ill people the right to die.

Two self-governing British Crown Dependencies -- the Isle of Man and Jersey --
have this month taken steps towards legislating on the issue.

Scotland, which has powers over health policy, is also looking to legalise it.
As a result, a UK parliamentary committee is warning the government in London
that it needs to look again at the law if the votes pass.

- Isle of Man, Jersey -
The Isle of Man and Jersey are not part of the UK but could become the first
jurisdictions in the British Isles to legalise assisted dying.

In the Isle of Man, which lies off northwest England, a bill overwhelmingly
passed a vote its parliament last October.

Lawmakers will discuss the Assisted Dying Bill again in June after amendments
to strengthen safeguards were scrutinised last week.

If passed, it would allow terminally ill adults, with less than a year to live and
"clear and settled intention", to end their lives.

Lawmakers in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands off northern France, are due to
debate a detailed proposal from Tuesday.

Alistair Thompson, from anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing, warned that
legalisation on either island could lead to so-called "suicide tourism".
But the Isle of Man says it is aware of the risk and has increased eligibility
criteria from one to five years' residency.

- England, Wales, Northern Ireland -
Assisted dying is illegal across the UK, with a maximum prison sentence of 14
years. The last attempt to change the law was defeated in 2015.

But there are signs that public opinion is changing.

An Opinium poll in February for the Dignity in Dying group indicated 75-
percent support for a change in the law.

UK MPs have since debated an e-petition signed by more than 207,000 calling
for a vote on it.

The petition was launched by journalist and television presenter Esther Rantzen,
who signed up to assisted dying facility Dignitas after being diagnosed with
terminal lung cancer.

According to Dignity in Dying, nearly 350 Britons have ended their lives at the
clinic in Switzerland, where assisted dying is allowed.

"I am in the fortunate position of being able to afford to go to Switzerland,"
Rantzen told AFP.

"But to avoid my family being investigated by the police, I will have to go
without them", she added, referring to laws that currently criminalise
encouraging or assisting suicide.

"Which is not what I would wish, and not what they would wish. For me, a
good death would be pain-free, in my home, surrounded by those I love".
Leaders of both main UK political parties have indicated they would be open to
a vote on the matter.

- Scotland -
Scotland's bill, introduced at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in March,
proposes that two doctors would have to deem a patient medically fit to make a
decision to end their own life.

They would have to be aged over 16 and also have to administer the life-ending
medication themselves.

The bill is still in its early stages and could be voted on next year.
But it raises the prospect of a divergence of laws between Scotland, England
and Wales, and Northern Ireland, which all have separate but broadly similar
legal systems.

- Campaigners -
The right to die is legal in a handful of countries including Belgium, Switzerland,
the Netherlands, some US states and Canada.

But it remains contentious for ethical and religious reasons.
Right to die campaigners like My Death, My Decision's Trevor Moore believe the
current law "protracts the suffering of people who might choose to ask for the
help to die".

However, anti-euthanasia activists say legalisation could pressure vulnerable
groups who fear being a burden on others to end their lives, including the elderly
and those with disabilities.

For Rantzen, campaigning has not been easy. "It means I have to talk about my
own death, and the deaths of those close to me," she said.

Hoping to capitalise on the current momentum, however, she said "the time has
come now, maybe too late for me, but at least for people making the same
journey after me, to be given this last, crucial choice".


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