The Speaker
Friday, 8 December 2023 – 19:15

Death Upon Request: Euthanasia and Assisted-Suicide

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

Various attempts have previously been made to implement legislation that would legalise doctor-led euthanasia; it is undeniable that such reform must be introduced in contemporary politics. At present, assisted dying in England and Wales is deemed illegal under the Suicide Act of 1961. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe defines euthanasia as an “act intended to end a patient’s life at his or her persistent, carefully considered and voluntary request in order to relieve unbearable suffering”. Support for lifting the ban on euthanasia has never been more prominent; it stems not only from 88% of the general public, but additionally from judicial authorities, the Medical Council as well as the Parliament itself.

A governing argument for such reform is that of personal autonomy, which is often balanced against the sanctity of life; arguing that without autonomy, a person’s morality diminishes. Additionally, many prominent individuals believe that the right to life, provided in Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, extends to the right to die. Human Rights arguments are raised, claiming that reforms similar to those made in Canada, Switzerland and the USA are necessary. Alternatively, it can be argued that the legalisation of euthanasia violates the state’s obligation to preserve life. Furthermore, such modification would create a slippery slope effect that would lead to the acceptance of severely immoral medical practices.

Nonetheless, the principle of personal autonomy must prevail in future legal reforms. Advocates for autonomous decisions raise the argument that respect for personal autonomy is one of the fundamental principles of medicinal practice, a concept that enables a mentally competent individual to act independently. The contemporary concept of autonomy is predominantly characterised by the efforts of John Stewart Mill, who implied that ‘autonomy’ must be viewed as a prudential value; something that benefits an individual and compliments their life. To overlook an individual’s personal choices would be to violate their dignity, it is an unconditional value that ensures that a person maintains a good quality of life. Its’ ignorance could potentially lead to mental distress and severe physical discomfort, not only for the individual, but also for their relatives.

It is important to consider that it is still a widely held belief that the sanctity of life must be protected, however, the term is derived from ancient times, back when it was impossible for an individual to be sustained by life support machines. Additionally, the possibility of a ‘slippery slope’ is problematic, however, it must be remembered that such a possibility comes hand in hand with every systematic development. Though this does not automatically mean that the advancements proceeding the development of euthanasia will be immoral.

Multiple attempts have been constructed to change the legal situation regarding assisted suicide in the United Kingdom, dating back to the year 1931, during which Killick Millard proposed a Voluntary Euthanasia Bill. The most recent bill aimed at proposing a legal framework to legalise euthanasia was rejected by the House of Lords in October 2021.

In conclusion, it is an alarming infringement of a person’s right to experience a life of intolerable pain and mental distress whilst there are medical professionals who are willing to assist them with euthanasia. The fundamental rights of every natural person, namely, liberty and personal autonomy are violated by the current law surrounding euthanasia in the United Kingdom. It is now time for the Parliament to introduce a reform which, unlike the previous attempts, will withstand the opposition within the House of Lords. 

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