The Economist, the world’s most respected news magazine, is a staunch supporter of legalising assisted suicide and euthanasia. But as part of its 175th birthday celebration, it opened its pages to a debate. Below are excerpts from a selection of participants.
Stephen Fletcher, a Canadian quadriplegic, Manitoba MP, and member of the Queen’s Privy Council in Canada. “In a liberal democracy we don’t try and dictate how people should live so why does society try to dictate how people should die? Dying with dignity is the greatest shift in morality in Canada in this generation.”
Emilie Yerby, a Guernsey politician. “If we are fallible in every other attempt to care for people through illness and the end of life, we will be fallible in our provision of assisted dying. We have no rational grounds to expect otherwise. And the consequences of our fallibility, however rare, can only be wrongful deaths.”
Dr Ellen Wiebe, a GP in Vancouver who has participated in over 150 assisted deaths since Canada legalised euthanasia in 2016. “And how do I feel when I provide an assisted death? Grateful to be a Canadian doctor in 2018 and have the ability to end the suffering of people dying of this array of horrible diseases.”
Charles Falconer, Britain’s Lord Chancellor from 2003 to 2007 and chair of the Commission on Assisted Dying. “It cannot be right that terminally ill people are denied choice based on the argument that the safeguards aren’t enough. The current law on assisted dying makes a mockery of due process, lacks popular support, is inhumane and fails to protect the vulnerable. It needs to change.”
Baroness Ilora Finlay, a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, professor of palliative medicine, and chair of Living and Dying Well. “We should not forget that laws are more than just regulatory instruments. They also send powerful social messages. An assisted dying law sends the subliminal message, however unintended by legislators, that if we are terminally ill taking our own lives is something we should consider. ... It is hardly surprising therefore that legalisation is inevitably followed by a continuing upsurge in such deaths.”
Kevin Yuill, historian at the University of Sunderland, in the UK. “I’m an atheist and a liberal. I support abortion rights. You might think that would make me supportive of assisted suicide ... We currently place equal moral weight on human life and do not measure it by years left or physical ability. Instituting assisted dying threatens that moral precept.”
Dr Peter Saunders, director of Care Not Killing. “Part of living in a free democratic society is that we recognise that personal autonomy is not absolute. And one of the primary roles of government and the courts is to protect the most vulnerable, even sometimes at the expense of not granting liberties to the desperate.”
Trista Carey, a Canadian lawyer. “A pro-choice person in every meaningful way, I have always fundamentally believed that we retain the inherent right to autonomy over our own bodies. Assisted death was a natural extension of those beliefs.”
Benoit Beuselinck, a medical oncologist at the University Hospital Leuven in Belgium. “It is my impression that those who often ask for euthanasia are suffering from depression. Is administering death the solution that our society proposes to loneliness and mental illness? ‘Death’ is now replacing ‘care’, and ‘autonomy’ replacing ‘solidarity’. As such, weaker patients can become victims of assisted dying.”
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