Thursday, January 5, 2012

Commission Report on Assisted Dying in UK

Here is the final report of the UK's Commission on Assisted Dying. The private commission was funded by author-turned-end-of-life activist Terry Pratchett, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and founded the UK's Dignity in Dying organization. It was led by Lord Falconer, a vocal proponent of liberalization of laws prohibiting assisted suicide. No one expected the Commission to come out with anything other than a pro-assisted-suicide view, Falconer's protestations of independence and neutrality notwithstanding. The Church of England has condemned the report, as have many (sometimes predictable) others.

But it is perhaps interesting to notice what the Commission actually ends up recommending: a relatively modest assisted suicide program rather similar to those in place in the US states of Oregon and Washington. The proposed program would help only competent adults with terminal diagnoses verified by two physicians. ("Terminal" means under a year to live, as opposed to the 6-month requirement in place in Oregon and Washington.) The patient's decision would have to be voluntary, not subject to undue influence, and not the result of a treatable mental condition such as depression. All requesting patients would be told about available social services and about other end-of-life treatment options such as palliative care. And the program would be open only to patients who are physically capable of taking the lethal medication themselves.

The report doesn't advocate euthanasia, though Falconer is often condemned by the other side as "pro-euthanasia." The program it recommends won't help Mr. Pratchett, whose Alzheimer's will likely render him incompetent before he has the report's recommended 12-month terminal diagnosis. Nor, as the Guardian points out, would the recommended program help Debbie Purdy, whose litigation forced prosecutorial authorities in England and Wales to issue guidelines backing away from criminal prosecution of those who assist their loved ones to die. Purdy has MS--a chronic, rather than a terminal, illness, and one that will likely make it impossible for her to take her own lethal medication within a year of her forecast death.

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