Critically proposed change in the law, 44% of people

Critically consider the notion of the ‘Right to die” within the context of end of life decisions of individualsThe term ‘euthanasia’ is derived from the Greek ‘words eu (good) and thanatos (death)’, thus the literal meaning of euthanasia is “good death”.1 However, the modern definition of euthanasia is a term confined to times when a doctor assists a patient to die by prescribing a lethal dose of drugs.2 Euthanasia can also be known as a ‘mercy killing’, as the act of inducing a painless death to ease suffering from an incurable illness.3 This essay will critically evaluate whether there should be a right to die, in the context of end of life decisions.A poll on assisted dying in 2015 illustrated that 82% of the public fully support Lord Falconer’s proposed change in the law, 44% of people would break the current law to aid a loved one to die.4 The maximum sentence for committing this crime is 14 years of imprisonment.5 There are many reasons why someone would want to die, but there are two main reasons as to why an individual might decide to opt to go through euthanasia. First, the loss of quality of life: terrible physical illness can lead to conditions like incontinence, constant nausea and vomiting. Some people are unable to swallow or suffer complete or increasing paralysis. Secondly, there are psychological factors which lead people to ask for an end of their life. This can be the result of serious depression, fear about the loss of quality life which the illness may bring, or a sense of being an unbearable burden on others. It is important distinguish between euthanasia and assisted dying. In euthanasia, the physician would have to act directly to cause the patient’s death, for instance by giving a lethal injection or a lethal dose of drugs.6 Whereas in assisted dying someone else provides the means for death.7 Whilst it is not illegal to take your own life, section 2, Suicide Act 1961 notes that complicity in another’s suicide is a criminal offence.In the UK “a physician who deliberately ends the life of her patient is subject to the ordinary criminal law” and would constitute murder as it satisfies the actus reus and the mens rea.1 As this act constitutes murder, it carries a mandatory life of sentence of imprisonment (14 years).2 The law prevents doctors from intentionally taking a person’s life to relieve suffering and reasons of compassion would not be taken into account in sentencing. In contrast, if someone is killed by a family or friend, this may be reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, according to s 2(1) Homicide Act 1957. However, it is highly unlikely a doctor will be able to successfully make the argument that they had a diminished responsibility.3 UK law allows doctors to give a powerful painkiller, like diamorphine, to a terminally ill patient who is suffering even if, as a secondary effect, the patient’s life shortened. This is the doctrine of double effect.4 The doctrine of double effect is at odds with the ordinary principles of criminal law.EA1 5 According to the doctrine of double effect, sometimes it is permissible to cause a harm, as a side effect of bringing about a good outcome, this doctrine differentiates ‘between results that are intended and results that are merely foreseen as likely, but unintended, consequences of one’s actions’.6 For instance, a physician who believes that abortion is wrong might nevertheless believe that it would be morally permissible to perform a hysterectomy on a pregnant woman suffering from cancer in order to save her life.7 By carrying out the hysterectomy, the doctor would aim to save the mother’s life, while merely foreseeing the death of foetus.8 A doctor can also withdraw medical treatment, if the judge is satisfied that recovery is not possible. This may involve turning off a life support machine. In some cases, it has been possible to withdraw food and water.EA2  For example, Anthony David “Tony” Bland suffered from severe brain damage that left him in a persistent vegetative state after he was injured in the Hillsborough disaster.9 He became the first patient in UK legal history to be allowed to die by the courts through the withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment including food and water.10The first argument against euthanasia is the concern that legalising euthanasia could lead to a “slippery slope”.EA3 11 This is primarily based on the fear that legalising euthanasia will lead to abuse in our healthcare system. For example, there are concerns that it would be challenging to accurately and effectively monitor the healthcare system’s implementation of the law and legalising euthanasia could place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives out of fear that they are an emotional or financial burden on others. Euthanasia has no special legal position in the UK and euthanasia can be treated as murder or manslaughter.12 The Dutch Parliament voted to formally legalise euthanasia in 2000. To begin with, euthanasia was only permitted for terminally ill patients who requested it, but it was subsequently extended to individuals who were chronically ill and to those suffering from psychological issues and incompetent patients, including children.13 Euthanasia statistics for 2015 from the Netherlands demonstrated a 4% increase compared with 2014.14  The increase is mainly due to euthanasia for irrational, elderly people and psychiatric patients.15 EA4 In 2015, 109 people suffering from dementia, compared to 81 in 2014, were euthanised, even though they were “mentally competent” to express their own will.16 In 2015, 56 patients who suffered from psychiatric disorders requested to die, an increase from the 41 such cases recorded.17 Any law allowing euthanasia or assisted dying in any circumstance may be subject to abuse. Taking everything to account, there were 5,561 reported assisted dying acts with the 3,695 reported five years ago- four cases were not in compliance with the Dutch euthanasia law.18 Voluntary euthanasia could arguably lead to involuntary euthanasia of people who are considered undesirable by society.Whilst UK law has been reviewed, it has not substantially changed, despite attempts by backbenchers in Parliament. Lord Walton, the chairman of a House of Lords committee on medical ethics exploring euthanasia, observed “we concluded that it was virtually impossible to ensure that all acts of euthanasia were truly voluntary and that any liberalisation of the law in the United Kingdom could not be abusedEA5 .”19 Changing the law would give doctors a degree of power over life and death, which could lead to abuse. These doctors could push the boundaries by falsifying certification or they might develop a taste for killing, like Harold Shipman. Some believe that voluntary euthanasia could be used as a cover up for more criminal acts, such as murder. The legalisation of doctor-assisted dying is the first step on a slippery slope where the vulnerable are threatened and where premature death becomes a cheap substitute to palliative medicine and hospices. The danger of violating the right to life is so great that we should ban euthanasia, even if it means violating someone’s dying wish.  Further, some people believe that euthanasia is wrong. This is based on their morality. The decision to end a human life is wrong due to the Sanctity of life principle. There alternative methods available oppose to legalising euthanasia such as: palliative care and hospices.20 Conversely, there are strong arguments to support that people should be given the right to end their lives. Supporters of euthanasia believe that everyone should have the right to control their body and life and should have the ability to decide what time or manner they pass away in. The denial of assisted dying is cruel. When an animal is terminally ill it is put down to “put it out its misery”, but the same cannot be done for a people who are in unending pain and suffering for a prolonged period. To be forced to continue living a life that one deems intolerable when there are doctors who are willing either to end one’s life or to assist one in ending one’s own life, is arguably an unspeakable violation of an individual’s freedom to live—and to die—as he or she sees fit. Supporters of euthanasia argue that death is a private matter and if there is no harm to other people, then we should not deny someone’s dying wish, since arguably, euthanasia promotes the best interest of all the concerned parties.People have the right to live, thus they should be given the right to end their lives as well. The principle of autonomy requires doctors to respect the wishes of a competent patient’s refusal of life prolonging medical treatment. However, advocates of legalisation say that patients should be entitled to ask for assistance in dying. The Lawyer for the terminally ill Noel Conway, who is attempting to legalise assisted dying, says the 1961 Act should be declared illegal.21 He claims the Suicide Act 1961 is incompatible with Article 8, which relates to respect for private and family life, and Article 14, which protects from discrimination.22 Some commentators agree that it is ‘cruel for the state to deny him a peaceful death’.23 Overall, there are strong arguments on both sides. Personally, I think that terminally ill patients suffer from a never-ending pain should have voluntary euthanasia available to them as an option to help ease their pain and aid them to die if the patients request it. On the other hand, some people agree with all the other reasons against euthanasia. such as the danger of it leading to a slippery slope and involuntary euthanasia being used a cover up for criminal acts like murder. Opponents of euthanasia argue that there could be a slippery slope, but on balance arguably this is merely theoretical, as there is very little evidence to support concerns that there would be a slippery slope. There is a clear desire among many patients at the end of often terrible battles with incurable diseases to end their suffering with the support of their loved ones. There currently appears no general right to die, but it is contested that to deny this right, is to prolong the suffering of individuals and families.EA6