Thursday 3 September 2009

Assisted dying - what is legal & what is not?

This was the title of an excellent talk given by Dr Michael Irwin at the Brighton & Hove Humanist Society on Wednesday evening. Dr. Irwin provided an interesting review of the history and the current situation as it exists internationally and in the UK. Other countries, e.g. Netherlands, and Switzerland, have tackled the ethical problems, and the legal frameworks they have established appear to be working satisfactorily.

Dr Irwin is currently under arrest (but bailed until Sept.30th.) for assisting in a suicide at the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland. The total cost of a suicide at Dignitas is estimated to be £4500. Dr Irwin donated £1500 towards this sum and accompanied the terminally-ill patient and his partner to Switzerland. On their return the partner was arrested but Dr Irwin had to challenge the police to arrest him which they eventually did.

The recent legal victory by Debbie Purdy (the MS sufferer) in the House of Lords means that the DPP now has to issue a policy on prosecuting these cases. Whether this policy survives the public consultation period in any helpful form remains to be seen. It is estimated that as many as 34 UK patients are currently waiting to travel to Dignitas. Certainly as long as the present British fudge exists it is only the wealthier Britons that will have any choice in the matter of their ending.

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