PhD candidate, Department of Sociology & Philosophy, University College Cork, Ireland

Category: Uncategorized

Methodological considerations of my research



My research method is a frame analysis approach. Frames may be described as ‘collective patterns of interpretation with which certain definitions of problems, causal attributions, demands, justifications and value-orientations are brought together in a more or less consistent framework for the purpose of explaining facts, substantiating criticism and legitimating claims’ (Rucht and Neidhardt 2002:11). I believe this to be the most effective method to document competing interpretations of the ‘right to die’.
The highly discursive EPAS debate centres on heated contestations amongst several actor
types relating to the interpretation of certain rights. The various elements of the rights
entitlement narrative reflect the input provided by legal, political, and social arenas, including the media. In particular this input pertains to the question of the individual’s right to recognition (e.g., of autonomy, experiences of suffering, loss of dignity), equal opportunity, and representation or voice before the law. Polemic interpretations of (in)justice highlight some fundamental issues at the core of this debate. A framing method proves the ideal way to track this ever-expanding public discourse.

I will employ a qualitative interviewing method to gather these conflicting interpretations. This will entail carrying out semi-structured interviews with those at the heart of this debate, consisting of influential legal and political actors as well as those directly seeking the right to die or those acting on their behalf. The advantage of a qualitative interview approach for my study lies in its facilitation of in-depth analysis of participant’s subjective experiences, much of which will undoubtedly be highly emotive, sensitive, and outside the realm of rigid definable variables. This research method enables the cultivation and maintenance of sensitivity to the social, cultural, and the historical caveats of this debate, impossible to consider with quantitative methods.

Using this data, my analysis will follow the theoretical recommendations of Axel Honneth, who calls for a negative reconstruction of society. This stipulation permits the definition of justice to be ‘provided by the criteria of the experiences of injustice rather than by a reconstruction of our intuitions of justice’ (2007: 95).

Once my empirical data is assembled, I will juxtapose those interviewees’ viewpoints to
definitively identify the fundamental contestations within this debate. Each participant’s
justificatory reasoning will reflect both the ‘for’ and ‘against’ rationalisations ascribed to the right to die. A framing technique enables researchers to assign normative value to each of these competing claims allowing for the formulaic deconstruction of the justice/injustice axis of this debate. The legitimacy of each competing claim for rights entitlement will be philosophically mediated to test whether it matches contemporary society’s expectations and the will of the majority of its people. Honneth’s supposition of reconstructing a fairer society can only be met once injustice claims are brought together in a coherent framework for deliberation. From here, a hierarchal ordering of these competing claims in accordance to their resonance with society will conclusively establish whether or not a call to alter existing legislation on the right to die is justified. That is the crux of my research.



Terminally ill former lecturer wins right to fight assisted dying ban


A terminally ill former lecturer has won the right to challenge the legal ban on assisted dying in the hope that he can end his life at home surrounded by his family.

Noel Conway, 67, from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in November 2014. His condition is incurable and he is not expected to live beyond 12 months.

The court of appeal on Wednesday reversed a previous ruling and said the high court should hear the highly contentious claim.

In their judgment, Lord Justice McFarlane and Lord Justice Beatson said: “It is arguable that the evidence demonstrates that a mechanism of assisted dying can be devised for those in Mr Conway’s narrowly defined group that is practical so as to address one of the unanswered questions in the [earlier Nicklinson right to die case].”

Supported by the organisation Dignity in Dying, Conway has instructed lawyers to seek permission for a judicial review of the ban on assisted dying, which he says prevents him ending his own life without protracted pain. Assisted dying is prohibited by section 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961 and voluntary euthanasia is considered murder under English and Welsh law.

Conway, who was not in court, welcomed the decision and said: “I am delighted that my case will now proceed to the next stage. Clearly the court of appeal has agreed that this is an issue deserving full and proper consideration and I look forward to a full hearing at the high court.

“I am more determined than ever to continue. I have the support of my loved ones and many thousands of others behind me.

“I have lived my whole life on my own terms, in control of the choices and decisions I make. Why then, when I am facing my final months, should these rights be stripped away from me, leaving me at the mercy of a cruel illness?

“I know I am going to die anyway, but how and when should be up to me.”

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said the law denied terminally ill people like Noel the choice and control they deserved at the end of their lives. She said parliament had failed to adequately address assisted dying and urged the courts to take into account recent developments in assisted dying abroad.

She said: “We are pleased that Noel’s case will now get the full and proper hearing it deserves at the high court. The current law simply does not work for dying people or their families.”

In their judgment, Lord Justices McFarlane and Beatson said: “We consider that, in the context of considering permission for judicial review, the fact that since [the Nicklinson case] parliament has made a decision not to change the law and the matter is no longer under active consideration means that Mr Conway should be entitled to argue that it is no longer institutionally inappropriate for the court to consider whether to make a declaration of incomparability [between the existing law and Conway’s rights under the European convention on human rights].”



Publication presentation

For those who may be interested in reading the said article then here’s the link:



Doctor Who Advocated for Assisted Suicide Chooses to End His Life

Dr. Rasmussen’s suicide was legal under Oregon’s Death with Dignity law

Source: Doctor Who Advocated for Assisted Suicide Chooses to End His Life

Care home director with motor neurone disease ends life at Swiss clinic

Monday 19 October 2015…http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/19/care-home-director-with-motor-neurone-disease-ends-life-at-swiss-clinic

A care home director with motor neurone disease has ended his life at a Swiss assisted-dying clinic, it was reported today.

Simon Binner, a 57-year-old Cambridge graduate, had previously announced on social media that he would take his own life.

In a posting on his LinkedIn page which emerged last week, he wrote: “I died in Switzerland with Eternal Spirit on 19 Oct 2015 and my funeral was 13 Nov 2015 … I don’t recommend MND. Better to have one massive fatal stroke or be killed instantly by a drunk driver! There is nothing I can say that is positive about MND.”

Eternal Spirit is a clinic in Basel where people end their lives. The Daily Mail reported that he travelled there over the weekend with his wife Debbie. In recent weeks Binner had been working with the British HumanistAssociation (BHA) and Bindmans solicitors.

They posted a video in which Debbie explained: “He doesn’t want to go to Switzerland and he doesn’t want to go into a hospital. He wants to be at home as much as possible with his friends and family. And I think the most important thing to say is that Simon believes if that was available in the UK he may well want to stay alive longer.”

A spokeswoman for the BHA could not confirm the death, but said in a statement: “Simon Binner’s battle with motor neurone disease may now be at an end, but many others like him continue to suffer without access to the dignified death that they want for themselves.

“All these people want, like Simon, is for the law to treat them with compassion and respect them as fully autonomous human beings. Most Britons agree with this position – around 80% of us.

“But parliament has let the people of Britain down, and now the fight for the right to die‬ must return to the courts. Our thoughts remain with the Binner family at this difficult time.”

In September MPs rejected the assisted dying bill to allow terminally ill patients to be supplied with a lethal dose of drugs.

Desmond Tutu: I approve of assisted dying

Sunday 13 July 2014 10:03…http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/desmond-tutu-i-approve-of-assisted-dying-9602619.html#commentsDiv

Desmond Tutu has spoken out in favour of assisted dying for the terminally ill, days before the controversial subject is set to be debated in the House of Lords.

The retired Anglican archbishop said that he reveres the sanctity of life, “but not at any cost”, adding that he now wants to apply his mind “to the issue of dignity for the dying”.

The 82-year-old said the treatment of his friend Neslon Mandela, who endured a long and difficult illness in which was hospitalised a number of times to keep him alive, was “disgraceful”.

Writing in the Observer, Tutu cited an incident when Mandela was required to appear with political leaders shortly before his death, stating that it was clear that Mandela “was not fully there”, was “an affront to Madiba’s dignity”.

Tutu has made it clear that he does not want his life to be prolonged: “I don’t want people to do their damnedest to keep me alive,” he said.

“Yes, I think a lot of people would be upset if I said I wanted assisted dying. I would say I wouldn’t mind, actually,” he added.

The religious leader’s comments come days before a pivotal debate in the House of Lords. On Friday, Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill will be debated by a record number of peers, with 110 already registered to speak.

The bill proposes that doctors should be able to legally assist “competent, terminally ill” patients in their wish to die by handing over lethal medication, if it is believed the patient has less than six months to live.

Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, shocked the church by his dramatic change in position on the proposed law, stating: “The fact is that I have changed my mind.” He dropped his opposition of the bill “in the face of the reality of needless suffering”, he said.

But the Anglican Church remains in opposition to the bill and has called for an inquiry into assisted dying, with the current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby calling it “mistaken and dangerous”, warning that elderly and severely disabled people would face pressure to end their lives if the bill were passed.

The Church of England is circulating a letter written by a dying clergyman to every member of the House of Lords in a bid to stop the law being passed.

The letter is written by Rev Christopher Jones, a former chaplain of St Peter’s College, Oxford, and advisor to the Archbishop’s Council, while he was dying of cancer.

Jones, who died in 2012, wrote in the letter that while he experienced “extreme stress and a sense of hopelessness” when he knew his condition was terminal, and that he would have been open to assisted dying, were it an option.

However, he later experienced a renewed “energy and vitality” that he described as being “recalled to life” when his cancer went into remission, and experience that he would have been denied, had he chosen to end his life earlier.

Right to die: MPs reject assisted dying law

2:59PM BST 11 Sep 2015….http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/assisted-dying/11857940/Assisted-dying-vote-in-House-of-Commons.html

MPs have overwhelmingly rejected the legalisation of assisted dying in England and Wales after an impassioned four-and-a-half hour debate in which party lines were set aside.

Members voted by three to one against giving second reading to a bill tabled by the Labour backbencher Rob Marris, to allow terminally ill patients to be supplied with a lethal dose of drugs

It was the first ever serious attempt to change Britain’s assisted suicide laws through the House of Commons and saw calls for the issue to be put to a referendum amid polling suggesting public support running at around 80 per cent.

MPs on both sides lined up to give moving personal accounts of the loss of loved ones arguing both in favour and against.

But they were swayed by a series of warnings, including from fellow MPs qualified as doctors, that a change in the law would fundamentally alter the relationship between doctor and patient.

The bill, based on a system already in place in the US State of Oregon, would have enabled anyone thought to have no more than six months to live in the opinion of two doctors to be given heolp to end their life.

A High Court judge would also have had to rule that the person had voluntarily expressed a clear, settled intention to die.

Assisting a suicide is a crime in the UK punishable by up to 14 years in jail, but guidelines drawn up by the former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer mean that those who help loved-ones travel abroad to die are unlikely to be charged if they are acting out of compassion.

Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of the Care Not Killing campaign said the vote was an “unequivocal rejection” of a “dangerous piece of legislation”.

“The current law exists to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed, or disabled from feeling under pressure to end their lives,” he said.

“It protects those who have no voice against exploitation and coercion, it acts as a powerful deterrent to would-be abusers and does not need changing.

“We hope Parliament will now turn its attention to the real issues facing our country of ensuring that everybody can access the very best care, regardless of whether they are disabled or terminally ill and that we fund this adequately.”

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Rev Peter Smith, said the bill had posed “grave risks” to the most vulnerable people in society.

“There is much excellent practice in palliative care which we need to celebrate and promote, and I hope now the debate on assisted suicide is behind us, that this will become a focus for political action,” he said.

Speaking for the Church of England, the Bishop of Carlisle the Rt Rev James Newcome, said: “The vote in the House of Commons sends a strong signal that the right approach towards supporting the terminally ill is to offer compassion and support through better palliative care. We believe that all of us need to redouble our efforts on that front.”

But Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “The vote only goes to show just how ridiculously out of touch MPs are with the British public on the issue.

“By rejecting the Bill Parliament has in effect decided to condone terminally ill people ending their own lives but refused to provide them the adequate protection they need,” she added.

“Suffering will continue as long as MPs turn a blind eye to dying people’s wishes. Dying people deserve better.”

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, one of a group of faith leaders supporting assisted dying said: “We are saddened that it failed to progress, as it dashes the hopes of those who wish to avoid ending their days in pain or incapacity.

“We hope MPs will revisit the issue at a future debate, although it will be too late for those who face dying in distress right now.”

Among MPs who spoke from their own experience in the medical profession, Dr Philippa Whitford, the SNP MP and breast cancer surgeon, gave an impassioned speech urging MPs to allow terminally ill people a “beautiful death” rather than helping them die.

But there were many moving contributions from supporters of the change. Paul Flynn, the Labour MP, read out a heart-rending letter from an elderly man who had sat with his wife as she starved herself to death for three weeks after she begged him to help her die.

“Every day of her life she said prayers for other people but when she pleaded ‘please God help take me now’ for once in that long life she prayed for herself but there was no-one to answer,” the man wrote.

Mr Marris told MPs that the current system amounts to “protection for the dead when it is too late” rather than proper safeguards and choice for those facing the end of their lives.

“The current law does not meet the needs of the terminally ill,” he said. “It does not meet the needs of their loved ones and, to some extent, it does not meet the needs of the medical profession.

“We have amateur suicides going on. We have what would be technically illegal assistance going on and we have those who have means going off to Dignitas in Switzerland and the Supreme Court in the Tony Nicklinson case recognised that there is a problem.”

He went on: “This bill provides protection for the living, what we have at the moment is protection for the dead when it is too late.

“Because it is only after people die in questionable circumstances that an investigation is made by police and the prosecuting authorities and then a decision is made on whether a decision would be in the public interest.

“I make no criticism whatsoever of the prosecuting authorities or the police, they are doing the job that we in Parliament have asked them to do but they are doing it after the fact.

“And the fact is that in many of these cases there are only two witnesses to what happened when that person died and one of those witnesses is dead. There are safeguards in this bill for the living the, the two doctors and the judge.

“In Oregon there is not one documented case of abuse or misuse, there a many rumours and urban myths … no one there has ever been changed with a crime.”

Pointing to the need for the former Director of Public Prosecutions to draw up detailed guidelines, he said: “It is time Parliament grasped this issue and social attitudes have changed.

He was challenged about concerns from doctors who oppose assisted suicide but might feel force d to step in in extreme cases, such as where a patient chokes.

“I appreciate that the medical profession in England and Wales is divided on this bill and that probably a majority are against,” he said.

“However, as far as we can tell, there is a significant minority who are in favour of this bill some of them I suspect because they would themselves like to have the option if they were terminally ill.

“There is no contradiction between this bill and having high quality palliative care – it is not a case of one or the other. “Some patients’ needs cannot be met by palliative care and they remain suffering.”

Amid a debate filled with powerful and at times emotional contributions from both sides of the argument, several MPs who worked as doctors spoke of their experiences.

Dr Whitford, the MP for Central Ayrshire, recounted how seeing one terminally ill woman go from fear to experiencing a “beautiful death” had made her decide to dedicate her career to working with cancer patients.

She spoke of being involved in journey with patients whose cancer comes back.

“That journey can lead to a beautiful death,” she said. “The biggest impact on me as a junior doctor was the death of a lady that I had looked after for many months. When I came onto the ward that night the nurses said I think Lizzie is going.

“She was curled up in her bed obviously quite upset, she said she was frightened, she didn’t know what to do. I said you don’t have to do anything, you just have to relax, you just have to let go.

“We had the family in. The West of Scotland male is not good on emotion or openness so I took her son in and I spoke to her again about what was happening to the point where he could tell her that he loved her, how much he was going to miss her.

“I went for a tea and came back and she was sitting up holding court and I thought Oh no we’ve called it wrong. But she was gone in an hour. And it was beautiful.”

Detailing the transformation in the approach to death within her career, she said: “I think we should support letting people live every day of their lives until the end and recognise that as legislators we provide the means for them to live and die with dignity and comfort not to say when you can’t [bear] it take the black capsule. I think we should vote for life and dignity and not death.”

Ben Howlett, the Conservative MP for Bath, said he had come to the Chamber planning to vote in favour but had been persuaded to change his mind by Dr Whitford’s words.

Among those welcoming the vote, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Rev Peter Smith, said the bill posed “grave risks” to the most vulnerable people in society.

“There is much excellent practice in palliative care which we need to celebrate and promote, and I hope now the debate on assisted suicide is behind us, that this will become a focus for political action,” he said.

“We hope MPs will revisit the issue at a future debate, although it will be too late for those who face dying in distress right now.”

A similar Bill, introduced by Lord Falconer, was granted a second reading by the House of Lords following a marathon and impassioned debate last year. It was subject to two days of detailed committee stage debate but failed to make progress before the election.

Sir Keir, who is now a Labour MP, detailed how he had drawn up the guidelines allowing leeway for relatives and loved-ones to offer help but not medical professionals.

He said he now believed there was an “injustice trapped” in the guidelines – that those who wish to end their lives can in practice receive amateur assistance from loved-ones but not professional help unless they have the ability and the means to travel abroad.

But Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP and former nurse, said thousands of people with no close relatives who effectively count the state as their only next of kin would find themselves in a unenviable position if the law sanctioned assisted dying.

“That sends a shiver down my spine,” she said.

Dr Liam Fox, the former Defence Secretary gave an impassioned speech against a change in the law which he said would force doctors and nurses into an “ethical trap” in the most difficult circumstances.

Recalling his time as a young doctor in Glasgow Royal Infirmary, he said: “I very often would be sitting with a dying patient and there is a very strong temptation to end their suffering.

“I believe anything that increases this pressure on doctors is an ethical trap which I do not want to see.”

He said the principle of “double effect” – in which strong medication given to reduce pain also hastens a patient’s death – was widely accepted.

“That is very, very different ethically and morally from giving a patient something that is primarily designed to kill them,” he said.

Norman lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP and former care minister, said he had changed his mind to back assisted dying after speaking to terminally ill patients.

“When I think would I want that right I am very clear in my mind that I would want it,” he said. “I don’t know whether I would exercise it but if I would want it for myself how can I deny it to someone else.”

Among them Paul Flynn, the Labour MP, said that the use of double effect was nothing more than a “mind game of self-deception” by doctors and the church and potentially “far more dangerous” than the proposals for assisted dying.

He urged the UK to have a referendum on the issue as had happened in Oregon.

He read the House a moving letter from an elderly man who had sat with his wife as she starved herself to death for three weeks, feeling powerless at not being able to help her die as she had asked.

“Every day of her life she said prayers for other people but when she pleaded ‘please God help take me now’ for once in that long life she prayed for herself but there was no-one to answer,” the man wrote.

He went on to describe how she had become increasingly emaciated and had reached the stage where “the shame and humiliation were no longer an embarrassment”.

“I held her close on the days when I could no longer understand her mumbled words, I could only reply hoping she would hear when I said ‘I love you darling, I understand’.

“I hope she knew that I was there with her. I held her when her eyes no longer opened and when she could no longer see I knew she could hear my words when a tear dropped from the corner of an eye.

“I held her until she had no touch, no sight possibly no hearing and I still said ‘I know darling I love you I understand’. I watched her beautiful face become a skeleton and held her when this poor love finally die.

“I hope she knew I was there but I doubt it. And now for the rest of my life I will remember her poor wrecked body and once so beautiful face become a hallow mask.”

Arguments against

  • Faith groups have led the argument against assisted dying, insisting that it would have serious impacts for the most vulnerable in society.
  • The Church of England believes a change in the law would lead to people either feeling pressured to, or putting pressure on themselves to, end their lives prematurely.
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury described the issue of assisted dying as one of the “biggest dilemmas of our time” but said legalising the act would give rise to a “slippery slope” which could lead to further difficulties.
  • Justin Welby stressed his belief that the current law is working and allows for compassion but society must accept that some situations will never be “neat and clear cut”.
  • His concern was recently echoed by UK faith leaders Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and Lord Singh of Wimbledon, director of the Network of Sikh Organisations UK in a joint open letter to MPs.
  • Together they warned that the UK would cross a “legal and ethical Rubicon” if Parliament votes to let terminally ill patients end their lives.
  • They are supported by David Cameron, who has made his own opinion on the ethically fraught issue clear. A Downing Street spokesman said the Prime Minister is not in favour of an approach that would “take us closer to euthanasia”.

Arguments for

  • However, an alliance of bishops, priests and rabbis, including former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, have broken ranks to voice an opposing view.
  • In stark opposition to Archbishop Welby, Lord Carey instead believes allowing doctors to help terminally ill people to die is a “profoundly Christian and moral thing” to do.
  • Proper legal safeguards could be devised to ensure vulnerable people are not pressurised into ending their lives by greedy relatives, he argued.
  • Dr Jonathan Romain, Rabbi of Maidenhead Synagogue and chairman of the group Inter-Faith leaders for Dignity in Dying, was among those who signed an open letter published in the Daily Telegraph which urged: “There is nothing sacred about suffering, nothing holy about agony, and individuals should not be obliged to endure it.”
  • Former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer said the law needs to be changed to “deal with the problem of people wanting to end their lives in this country, medically assisted, rather than traipse off to Switzerland”.
  • He said the debate is not about legalising euthanasia but addressing in-built limitations in the current guidelines, which mean that there can be “injustice in a number of cases”.
  • Campaign charity Dignity In Dying believes it is time the UK “puts an end to unnecessary suffering and gives dying adults the choice of an assisted death”.

There is no legal basis for normalising suicide

1:40PM BST 10 Sep 2015….http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/assisted-dying/11855862/There-is-no-legal-basis-for-normalising-suicide.html

Should Parliament legalise assisted suicide? Rob Marris, whose Assisted Dying Bill has its Second Reading debate in the House of Commons, believes we should.

It is important to understand what is being proposed: that doctors should be licensed to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill people so they can use them to take their own lives. Many doctors do not want to do this. A recent survey of GPs revealed that only one in seven would be willing to consider a request for assisted suicide.

A change in the law would be exploited by the ruthless who see personal advantage in the death of a relative or person over whom they have influence

This is a major change to the criminal law and to the “do no harm” principle that underpins medical ethics and practice. If Parliament is to go down that road, it needs convincing evidence that there is something seriously amiss with the law as it stands. I have seen no such evidence.

We have laws to criminalise acts that are not acceptable to us. One such act is encouraging or assisting someone to commit suicide. Society’s view of suicide is consistent and clear. Individuals who attempt to end their own lives should be treated with compassion and understanding and given help; but suicide itself is not something to be encouraged, much less assisted. This is why we have prevention strategies and suicide watches. Licensing assistance with suicide in certain circumstances flies in the face of such values, undermining them.

Laws are more than just regulatory instruments. They convey important ethical messages. When something is legalised by Parliament, it helps it acquire a stamp of social approval. An “assisted dying” law sends the message that, if you are terminally ill, taking your own life is something for you to consider and something that can be legitimately encouraged.

We can all think of exceptional circumstances where helping someone to end their life might not be morally reprehensible. But the law already has the discretion to deal with such cases sensitively and to ensure that charges are not brought where it is clear that there is no public interest in doing so. This is underpinned by guidelines to ensure consistency.

Under the present law, assisting suicide is rare. Fewer than 20 cases a year cross the desk of the Director of Public Prosecutions. If we had an assisted suicide law like Oregon’s – the model for Mr Marris’s Bill – then the evidence based on our different population sizes is that we will be looking at around 1,500 cases every year. And Oregon’s death rate from legalised assisted suicide is still rising. Enabling laws tend to encourage and promote the acts they enable.

There is also every reason to be concerned that the boundaries of an “assisted dying” law will not remain intact. The criteria proposed are entirely arbitrary. They do not rest on any rational logic, and for that reason they invite pressure to extend them.

We are already seeing the first attempts to relax the terms of Oregon’s law – to extend the six-months-to-live limit to 12-months-to-live. It’s hardly surprising. Criteria such as “terminal illness” and “six months to live” are arbitrary and uncertain. If compassion demands that we legalise assisted suicide for people who are expected to die shortly of natural causes, on what grounds can it be resisted for others who have longer-lasting conditions, such as MS or Parkinson’s, which they may have to cope with for many years?

By contrast, the law that we have now rests on the rational and widely-accepted principle that we do not involve ourselves in bringing about the deaths of other people. Once we start making exceptions based on loose criteria such as “terminal illness”, then the boundary becomes just a line in the sand, easily crossed and hard to hold. It will also be exploited by the ruthless who see personal advantage in the death of a relative or person over whom they have influence.

The present law and its application like all human constructs cannot be perfect. No law can be. But it fulfils the role that was intended for it – it deters malicious assistance with suicide while showing understanding and clemency in compassionate cases. It exists, not to give options and choices to some, but to provide protection for all, especially the most vulnerable. We tinker with it at our peril.

Dominic Grieve QC is MP for Beaconsfield and the former Conservative Attorney General

The Assisted Dying Bill is an ethical muddle

6:42PM BST 06 Sep 2015….http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/assisted-dying/11847817/The-Assisted-Dying-Bill-is-an-ethical-muddle.html

On Friday, the Assisted Dying Bill will get its second reading in the House of Commons. If it passes, people can be helped to kill themselves, by law. Nothing like this has ever happened before in this country, which until now has based all medicine and law on the protection of innocent life. If one reads the Bill, the whole subject comes into clearer focus. Here are some points that arise:

1. In order to make people feel safe, the Bill requires the consent of the High Court (Family Division) for an assisted death to take place; the diagnosis of terminal illness by the “attending doctor” and by another “independent” doctor; a signed declaration of the patient’s desire to kill himself, witnessed by someone other than the doctors or a relation; and someone, not necessarily the “attending doctor”, to prepare and deliver the death-dealing medicines, and stay with the potential suicide until he is either dead or has changed his mind.

This whole process is in the charge of the Secretary of State for Health. Section 5 of the Bill provides for conscientious objection, so no one can be compelled to do any of the above. It is hard to imagine, however, that declining to take part would not damage the career of a politician (the Secretary of State), a High Court judge, a doctor or a nurse. Professionals who refuse to operate the law are always considered bores and weirdosand so are surreptitiously punished.

Millionaire hotelier Peter Smedley named as man whose assisted suicide was filmed by BBCThe Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland Photo: AFP  Photo: AFP

2. The people preparing and delivering the fatal drugs and helping the would-be suicide “ingest” them must, however, make sure “the final act of doing so must be undertaken by the person for whom the medicine has been prepared”. The person administering is not permitted to “have the intention of causing [the would-be suicide’s] death”.

This seems an ethically confused position. If, as the supporters of the Bill believe, it is good for a suffering patient to choose to die, why not – if that really is what he wants – kill him? Why not spare him the physical difficulty and mental anguish (he may be in a poor state, no matter how firm his decision) and do it yourself?

Here comes the well-known slippery slope: after a few years of watching people kill themselves, often with distressing incompetence, the argument for getting the professionals to do it direct will be presented as irresistible.

3. When the “assisting health professional” has delivered the drugs, he must then hang around until the person is either dead or has changed his mind and wishes to live. The definition of remaining with the would-be suicide can include “being in close proximity to, but not in the same room as, the person”.

How vividly one can imagine the scene: the nurse assisting ingestion, then leaving the bedroom to avoid the last convulsions, then re-entering after 10 minutes from the bathroom to check that all is “well”. Most people will surely find this etiquette for suicide-enablers macabre and the mind-bending demands it makes on the professionals cruel.

right to dieThe law is there to protect the dying  Photo: Alamy

4. Since the terminal patients wanting to kill themselves must be adults of sound mind and settled will, there is no place, in law, for the next of kin. It could not be otherwise, of course, but it would have remarkable effects. It would be perfectly possible, for example, for the sick person to get the agreement of the court, the inspection and signature of the doctors, the delivery of the drugs and the presence of the assisting health professional, all against the will of his spouse and children. They could carry out the fatal procedure against the wishes of the people who love him most and who are in the house caring for him.

The force of law would be applied to extinguish life in the heart of the family which is struggling to maintain it. Is this a bearable idea in a legal order? Could a spouse be charged with impeding a suicide sanctioned by the state? If not, according to the Bill’s morality, why not?

5. Conversely, how easily could professionals discern the true will of the sick person if he is being bullied by his family? It is, sadly, not unknown for people to want their relations to die. If such people can achieve their end under the cloak of law, some will be ready to do so. This could be a particular factor when the passage of time is involved. Suppose a Jeremy Corbyn-led government had just decided to double death duties – would it be surprising if the assisted dying figures showed a spike in the months before the new rate came into force?