Even though we see headlines like this consistently, all the time, from every polling organisation, it’s important that we keep sharing and talking about it when it happens. Because we are in the majority! When it comes to assisted dying, Humanists UK campaigns not just for the interests of humanists, but, in fact, for the vast majority who feel that the UK’s ban on assisted dying is barbaric and impossible to rationally condone.
The new research also indicates that 79% of disabled people in Scotland support legalising assisted dying. This is an important point. Disabled people and their voices must continue, as they always have, to be front and centre when it comes to assisted dying reform. As always, the evidence flies in the face of the lie – largely pushed by religious lobbyists and fundraisers – that there is a consensus among disabled people that assisted dying should be outright prohibited. Completely untrue! In fact, the campaign has always been led by and for disabled people – like Debbie Purdy, Tony Nicklinson, Paul Lamb, and Noel Conway – and it has an approval rating from this community that no political party or religious group could ever dream to have. It’s a good reminder that as humanists we must always consider the facts, and the truth that the facts bear out. A popular myth is still just that – a myth!
Myths like these abound, especially on emotive topics like this one, which have the potential to attract American evangelical money and culture war propagandists to the debate. One thing we see increasingly often is that the public is not always well informed about it, including what campaigners want, or how the law works in other countries. So, we’re getting that information out there in more hands – with your help.
Here’s six reasons we need an assisted dying law:
1) Dignity: Assisted dying would give people control at the end of life
It’s about making sure that every terminally ill or incurably suffering person has control over their own body. The right to die is intrinsically tied to the right to bodily autonomy, one of the basic rights that define what it means to be human. Without a compassionate law, the decision does not lie in the hands of who it affects most. As our patron, Terry Pratchett, the assisted dying campaigner and author said: ‘Either we have control over our lives, or we do not.’
2) Safety: Tried and tested assisted dying safeguard regimes around the world
In the last 80 years of having humane assisted dying laws on planet Earth, countless societies have debated and formulated well-written laws to protect the vulnerable from potential abuse or misuse.
We in the UK are in the lucky position of having a global survey of different legal frameworks to learn and choose from and adapt to our legal framework. In recent months, a new digital information war front opened up around safeguards in Canada, often by presenting cases of people who applied for assisted dying (and were rejected) or who were informally told by rude people to try and get it (but who would never have been eligible). We and others have published reports trying to correct the factual record on this. We’ve also looked closely at how the safeguards in Canada could be improved, and how the UK can do much better.
3) Empathy: Assisted dying would alleviate unnecessary suffering, indignity, and fear
The stories of assisted dying legal claimants are well-known and heart-wrenching. Take, for example, the stories of Humanists UK members Noel Conway, Omid T, Paul Lamb, and Tony Nicklinson. But these stories are just a drop in the ocean, and there are thousands more people in similar situations around the UK.
A humane assisted dying law isn’t just about granting individuals a choice; it’s about listening to people who do not want to endure prolonged agony, fear, and distress. As our patron, the right-to-die campaigner, Dr Henry Marsh, said: ‘As a doctor for over 40 years, I know that dying can be deeply distressing for both patient and family, despite what the opponents of assisted dying claim, however good the palliative care.’
4) Compassion: Assisted dying would allow people to die on their own terms
The idea of dying in a state of relative comfort, surrounded by our loved ones and our most cherished possessions, is something many of us have in mind for the end of our lives. A humane assisted dying law, with clear safeguards, could make such a reasonable vision a reality for almost everyone who wants it. Everyone deserves ‘a good death’ when the time comes.
Sadly, under the current law, we know that many people choose to end their lives much sooner than they otherwise would if they had the legal option to access assisted dying. This need not be the case.
5) Clarity: Assisted dying with safeguards would give legal clarity to families
With our current laws and ambiguous prosecution guidelines, friends, family, and loved ones of a terminally ill or incurably suffering person sometimes face police suspicion, investigation, and arrest should their loved one travel to Switzerland of their own free will to have an assisted death, or if they attempt suicide in their own home out of desperation.
A compassionate assisted dying law would, through the very safeguards we campaign for, give greater legal clarity to families whose relatives want assisted dying, and take away the threat that a family tragedy will be compounded further. Those precious last months and years together could be spent focused on quality time and making memories, with fewer sleepless nights and worries at an already painful time.
6) Democracy: It’s what the majority of people want
The evidence suggests that over 90% of the UK population want to see a change in the law. It’s evident that the current legal framework is out of touch with public sentiment, and change is long overdue. England and Wales are quickly becoming the outlier among developed nations by refusing to adopt a more compassionate law. Scotland, Jersey, and the Isle of Man are already working towards a change in the law.
We think terminally ill and incurably suffering people should have the right in law to die, with dignity, in a time and manner of their own choosing. And most people agree!
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell at email@example.com or phone 07456 200033.
Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying in the UK.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 110,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.