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Lord Joffe's "New Proposal for Assisted Suicide" (28th July 2010) poses as many questions as it answers about the wisdom of changing the law to allow suffering people the "right to choose" their own death.
He summarily dismisses opponents of assisted suicide as "a small minority [who] should not be allowed ... to impose their beliefs and views on the majority" who he claims favour it. The truth is that a great number of sick and disabled people (including some who, like me, demonstrated against Joffe's own "Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill" bill in May 2006) have this very fear - that once assisted suicide was legalised, the majority view that disabled, sick and suffering people are "better off dead" would prevail over individual concerns. I am certainly personally very afraid of what he proposes.
I have several severe disabling conditions, and, when not confined to bed, use a wheelchair full time. My spine is collapsing causing extreme pain, which cannot be well controlled, even with morphine. It is getting worse, and will inevitably continue to do so. Twenty-five years ago, when doctors thought my life expectancy was extremely short, I decided I had had enough, and developed a settled wish to die. I seriously attempted suicide several times, and was prevented only by good friends, and good doctors who worked on the principle that my life was worth saving (just as they would for any able bodied patient who had attempted suicide). If legally binding Advance Directives had been in place then, as they are now, I would have made one. Neither the ill-named "court of protection" nor the "tribunal" which Joffe envisages, would have saved me, and I would not now be writing this letter. I would have missed the best years of my life, despite continuing extreme physical pain, and no one would ever have known that the future held good things for me, and that the doctors were wrong in thinking I didn't have long to live.
Joffe speaks of only one "important safeguard" - that of "self administration" of the lethal drugs while simultaneously allowing for the authorisation of "other means of self-administration" if the patient is unable to take it him/herself. This uncharacteristic coyness in spelling out what he actually means, was also used by supporters of the bill to legalise assisted suicide in Washington State, USA, where "self-administration" was also touted as a "safeguard." Later it transpired in the smallprint of the Act that this term actually meant the "act of ingesting" the fatal dose. Thus any third party could put the lethal medication in an incapacitated patient's mouth or feeding tube and the act still be regarded as "self-administration" because the patient "ingested" it. Is it any wonder that sick and disabled people are alarmed, rather than encouraged, by Joffe's weasel words?
Finally Joffe rules that there should be a "minimum waiting period" before a patient wanting to die is allowed to "ingest" the fatal dose or change their minds. I wanted to die for ten years. I rest my case.
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