Members of Parliament influence policy and shape future legislation through their work on cross party groups and House of Commons committees. I am a member of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee and we are carrying out an inquiry into Assisted Dying.
This week we heard from family members who had lost loved ones to a terminal illness. They told us about the difficulties they faced when their dying loved ones sought a peaceful death. Their testimony was powerful. One of the most distressing aspects of the evidence was the unnecessary suffering their loved ones endured and the way family members are traumatised by seeing their loved ones die in horrific circumstances.
Assisted dying is an emotive issue and one which legislators across the world are grappling with as medical science and social attitudes evolve. In this country it is a criminal offence for a health professional or a family member to help the terminally ill accelerate the dying process. This law can put medical professionals in ethically complex situations and at odds with the wishes of their patients.
All clinicians want to relieve unnecessary suffering, particularly at the end of life. Yet we heard disturbing instances of first responders and medical professionals having by law to prevent patients from accessing assistance that might accelerate their death. This can mean forcibly extending the dying process. Under the law the State is required to extend the life of a dying person no matter their wishes and no matter the suffering they may endure. This is a shocking loss of personal autonomy and choice. It is traumatising for professionals, families and the terminally ill. No medical professional is comfortable forcing a dying patient to prolong the process of dying in pain and distress.
Given that other jurisdictions are moving towards legalising Assisted Dying, we need to understand why the UK has a restrictive and draconian approach to this sensitive issue. The State has no business forcing unbearable suffering on the terminally ill. The personal cost is too high. It is the job of Parliament to find a better way.