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Updated: November 25, 2010 12:11 IST

England takes the first step to legalise assisted dying

R. PRASAD
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England plans to legalise assisted dying. Assisted dying involves a doctor prescribing a life-ending dose of medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill adult at his request. It is the patient who administers the medication to himself. File photo
England plans to legalise assisted dying. Assisted dying involves a doctor prescribing a life-ending dose of medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill adult at his request. It is the patient who administers the medication to himself. File photo

England and Wales are taking the first step to consider passing a law on assisted dying - providing assistance to someone to die

England and Wales are taking the first step to consider passing a law on assisted dying. According to a recent online news report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), a 12-member commission will consider if such a law is required, and submit a report in October next year.

Assisted dying involves a doctor prescribing a life-ending dose of medication to a mentally competent, terminally ill adult at his request. It is the patient who administers the medication to himself.

The difference

Assisted dying is very different from euthanasia. In the case of euthanasia, the life ending medication is administered to the patient by a third party, usually a doctor. On the other hand, assisted dying refers to providing assistance to someone to die.

Former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer, who will head the commission, was reported as saying to the BMJ that the idea for the commission came from Dignity in Dying, a national campaign and member organisation that is striving to make this legal.

Money for the commission was raised by Dignity in Dying. Despite this, Lord Falconer has made it explicitly clear that the members will act independently and that the commission will not be influenced by anybody.

Currently, it is illegal in England for doctors to help terminally ill and mentally competent patients to die. While terminally ill people can travel to Switzerland and resort to assisted dying, people in England who had helped the patient to travel to Switzerland can be punished.

Apparently, Lord Falconer had tabled an amendment in the House of Lords to provide legal protection to those who had helped terminally ill patients to travel abroad for an assisted dying. His attempt failed, though.

First in the world

Switzerland is not the only country that has legalised assisted dying. The State of Oregon in the U.S. was the first in the world to legislate assisted dying way back in 1997. Citizens there had voted for the “Oregon's Death with Dignity Act” in 1994, but immediate implementation was delayed due to legal hurdles.

There have been 460 patients in Oregon who had died by taking advantage of the Act between 1998 and 2009 (http://oregon.gov/DHS/ph/pas/docs/yr12-tbl-1.pdf).

First year score

According to a paper published in 1999 in the New England Journal of Medicine, there were totally 23 patients who received legal prescriptions for lethal medications between January 1, 1998 and December 31, 1998 in the State of Oregon. Of the 23, only 15 patients actually took the lethal medications and ended their lives.

Washington State emulated Oregon and voted for assisted dying in November 2008. Eleven people used prescribed medicines to end their lives within six months after the State law permitted assisted dying.

Three countries — Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands have legislated assisted dying. Voluntary euthanasia is forbidden in Switzerland. But the Article 115 of the Swiss Penal Code exempts people who assist someone to die, provided they have acted with entirely honourable motives. France and Spain are looking at the possibility of amending the existing law to allow assisted dying.

The policy of Dignity in Dying is to work towards legalising assisted dying so that terminally ill patients have a choice and control over the timing and manner of their deaths.

Good death

“It would allow dying adults, suffering at the end of their life, the option to substitute a bad death with a good death,” its website states.

There are some basic requirements for a patient to become eligible to receive a prescription for lethal medication from a doctor. For instance, the patient must make two verbal requests to his doctor separated by at least 15 days, and should also provide a written request. The doctors should confirm the diagnosis and prognosis of the disease.

The patient should be mentally sound. If the patient's judgement is impaired by his mental state, even depression, he becomes ineligible. The doctor should inform the patient of the alternatives such as palliative care, pain control etc.

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It's a good idea, Should be legalised all over the world.

from:  swetabh malaviya
Posted on: Nov 25, 2010 at 15:28 IST

Theoreticaly it may differ from euthansia where someone other than patient himself can pray for termination of patients' life but in both cases life has to to be put to an end by the doctor. As far as the clause of exclusion of mentally unsound patient patient goes there must be some precautionary measures taken as for e.g verification by the doctor of any other hospital of his terminal illness or by a government doctor or for that matter any external authority who has no personal interest in the patient concerned. Just because he is mentally unsound does not mean he has to perpetually suffer.Assisting someone to die shold not bemade pnishable directly,there must be some conditions laid down to classify the conditions leading to assistance in dying than otherwise doing so.It will definitely need some time ,till then the courts should be given discretion to render this classification and the state of things will surely improve. The society has become sufficiently mature people respect their own lives and if they are so fed up with it the don't want to continue then state should not interfere.In modern world there are people who respect their life so much that they take others life easily for their own advantage so government should try to block those loopholes which makes the option of assisted dying to become the victim of death at the hands of others rather than completely blocking the option which is positively practical and revolutionary. IT will save the resources of state in form of material resorces and manpower who are engaged with terminally ill patients with no hope of recovery . So this law must be passed with adequate precautions and fair amour amount of time must be taken before we legislate but till courts must be given the discretion to act,the illegality of assisted dying must be done away with within a certain and quick time limit as sufferings deserve an immediate attention

from:  chandan Mishra
Posted on: Nov 25, 2010 at 15:17 IST

Any idea if this will anytime be implemented in India... It would help people in the Nth moment of their lives to die in peace! Dying in pain is something no one would want. It could help the needy too...

from:  Ranjan
Posted on: Nov 25, 2010 at 14:55 IST
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