Incapacity rights campaigner, palliative care physician, Rabbi and Imam communicate out in assist of assisted dying regulation, as Lords and Holyrood put together to debate potential laws

A disability rights activist, a palliative care practitioner, a rabbi and an imam spoke to the all-party parliamentary group on end-of-life elections yesterday (Wednesday, July 7, 2021), calling on bipartisan MPs and peers to amend the euthanasia law.

This comes weeks after euthanasia bills were tabled in the House of Lords and Holyrood respectively, paving the way for the first debates on future legislation in England, Wales and Scotland in more than five years.

Jointly chaired by Karin Smyth, Labor MP from Bristol South and Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP from Sutton Coldfield, the group also heard from Christine Jardine, Liberal Democrat MP from Edinburgh West, about the “upheaval” in the views of Scottish MPs and the prospect of success for the upcoming euthanasia law, led by Liam McArthur, MSP of the Liberal Democrats for Orkney.

Dr. Stephen Duckworth OBE, a veteran disability rights activist who has been a wheelchair user for 40 years, stressed that his own strong support for greater end-of-life choice is shared by many other disabled people (86%) and pointed out that Study of Views from disability rights organizations on euthanasia, which found that of those in a certain position only 4% oppose it. Dr. Duckworth called on a “vocal minority of disability rights activists, including the House of Lords,” who falsely claim to the contrary, stifling an open and fair debate on the issue.

He also criticized non-disabled opponents who “exploit the experiences of disabled people and the equality and fears we suffer in our daily lives” and use this “as a pretext for their own agenda to block progress on this issue”. He added: “There is no hierarchy of rights. Equality for disabled people cannot be achieved by denying dying people the autonomy, choice and control they want and deserve over their lives. “

Dr. Duckworth MP Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, also attended and praised him for convincing her of the need for euthanasia. Condemning the current blanket ban, she said: “We currently have a system that gives you access to euthanasia when you are healthy enough to travel [to Switzerland] and if you have the financial means to do it, it’s an effective means tested approach. “

Dr. Bill Crawley, former family doctor, head of the palliative care practice and experienced palliative care practitioner, admitted that while the majority of people are capable of “what might be called a“ good ”death” with access to end-of-life care, he has his own professional experience demonstrated that a significant minority of patients still die without adequate symptom control or pain relief – a claim confirmed by research by the Department of Health Economics.

Dr. Crawley said that he had often been asked by patients about more choices at the end of their lives and that on many occasions he had experienced suffering that exceeded the options currently available. These included patients with motor neuron disease who felt “hunger for breath” when a ventilator was removed to hasten death, and cancer patients who had tumors wrapped around their windpipe or vomited feces due to intestinal obstruction. “The choice at the end of life to have a dignified death in experienced hands is the only way to be sure that patients will not have to tolerate subjectively unbearable symptoms,” he added.

Commenting on the resistance of some palliative care practitioners to changes in the law, Dr. Crawley: “Unfortunately, I think their positions may be shaped more by personal opinions and beliefs than by the wishes of our patients and the evidence we have … compelled to speak out against those who portray the entire palliative care community as monolithic opponents of euthanasia would, whereas like me they would probably have taken care of patients who would have wanted this choice. “

Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain, chairman of the Religious Alliance for Dignity in Death, spoke of his change of heart on the matter after visiting patients in the hospice who were experiencing intolerable suffering despite high quality care, and said: holy over the torment … life is precious, but we can still help people avoid a terrible death at the end of this precious life. ”He cited the support of many other religious leaders and lay people who support changes in the law“ because of their belief, not in spite of ”including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Dr. Taj Hargey, Imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation and Director of the Oxford Institute for British Islam, stressed that the teachings of the Quran on suffering and ending one’s own life must be evaluated in the light of modern medical advances, which can often prolong the dying process. He asked, “When a person’s quality of life has deteriorated so badly and has reached a point where it never comes back in terms of endless pain and gratuitous agony, shouldn’t an empowered person have the right to leave this life?” . Dr. Hargey concluded that “from an Islamic point of view, therefore, this voluntary termination of life in these very specific circumstances should be viewed as a self-chosen relief; a personal release from unbearable agony. “

Christine Jardine MP discussed the new euthanasia law introduced by Liam McArthur MSP saying that “there has been a fundamental change in the Scottish Parliament” on the issue of euthanasia and that “there is a feeling that the time has come “. ; that this is the next great liberal reform ”. Ms Jardine added that she was “calmly confident” about the success of the upcoming Holyrood bill, on which a consultation will be launched in early autumn.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said“Today’s speakers reflect views shared by many in their respective areas such as disability rights, palliative care and belief – that more choice and control are urgently needed for the dying and benefit society as a whole, and that rights for the terminally ill go hand in hand with the rights of disabled people, with improving end-of-life care as a whole, and with respect for religious values ​​and beliefs.

“With euthanasia debates going on in the House of Lords, Scotland and Jersey by the end of this year, it is clear that a momentum for change is building here and around the world. Parliamentarians in every corner of the British Isles have a duty to recognize the strong support across society and to examine the growing evidence showing that current options are simply not enough for people who are dying or their families. It is time we joined the growing number of states and nations with safe, compassionate euthanasia laws. “

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