UK and the Fight Over Legalized Assisted Suicide

By Nancy Flory Published on July 24, 2017

Unlike the United States, where assisted suicide is legal in a few states, it is not legal in the United Kingdom. Not yet.

That may change with the case of Noel Conway. Conway, 67, has a terminal illness. He’s challenged the UK’s 1961 Suicide Act that bans assisted suicide. He argued before the high court last week that the ban “breaches the right to a private life under the Human Rights Act.” The hearing concluded last Thursday and parties now wait for the Court’s ruling.

Fighting for the Option of “Assisted Death”

Conway hopes to change the law to legalize assisted suicide for terminally ill patients with less than six months to live. He also wants to die in his country on his own terms. “The option of an assisted death should be available to me, here in this country, in my final six months of life — this is what I am fighting for.” He said it would bring him peace of mind and allow him to live his last months to the fullest.

Parliament has debated the issue of assisted suicide. So far it has refused to change the law. According to actor and disabled activist Mandy Colleran, a law allowing assisted suicide is “a dangerous precedent to set.” She warns it will affect everyone, not just the terminally ill.

In an interview with Channel 4’s Jon Snow in London, Colleran said the disabled are at risk because they are made to feel like a burden to society. Snow noted that because the National Health Service didn’t have enough money, people might suggest letting the disable, the elderly, and others die.

“We are actually being made to feel like burdens to society,” Colleran responded. “What we’re seeing is a very gradual process of coercion.” That process tells the disabled and others that needing care “would be the worst thing in the world” and that “you’re better to go before you end up like that.”

Jamie Hale, poet and disabled activist agrees. “Feeling like a burden is one of the greatest risk factors for suicide,” he said. He explained that the disabled and terminally ill people are constantly told that they are a financial, emotional and practical burden on society. There’s a strong implication that they would be better off not being a burden.

It Will Affect All of Us

If health care is a luxury while assisted suicide is a cheaper choice, the lives of the disabled and terminally ill will be devalued, said Hale. It “will affect the care offered to all of us.”

He added, “Remaining alive will become a selfish decision that burdens our families, risks their inheritances, and has a huge financial cost to society.”

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