UK dementia expert backs assisted suicide

The UK should legalise assisted suicide, according to a leading government adviser on dementia and care for the elderly. Martin Green, the chief executive of the English Community Care Association, which represents nursing and care home groups, said that it made no sense to exclude assisted suicide from the “mantra of choice and control” which inspires British health care.

“If you’re going to give people ‘choice’, it should extend to whether or not they want to die,” he said. “If people have got the capacity to make an informed choice then it is my view that they should be allowed to make the informed choice.”

Otherwise, policy is inconsistent. Disability discrimination laws require that people who are physically unable to “engage in the activities of normal citizens” are entitled to support. This should also include dying. “In terms of people who have cognitive function, it seems to me to be wholly consistent to say, if you’re going to give people choice and control and autonomy, it should extend to whether or not they want to die.”

Mr Green supports a referendum or a free vote in Parliament on assisted suicide.

However, he did foresee problems. Even legislation “absolutely clear safeguards”, would not prevent abuses, he admitted. “It might be a small minority but you will never ever be able to eliminate risk and you should never pretend you can,” Mr Green said. He told the Telegraph that people can change their minds and patients with dementia can undergo major alterations to their personality.

This is a major stumbling block, say opponents. The disability charity Scope has warned that “a substantial majority” of disabled people fear that legalising assisted suicide could increase pressure on them to end their lives. And Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing Alliance, said Parliament had repeatedly rejected reforms over fears for vulnerable people who see themselves as a financial or emotional burden on their families. “In a free, democratic society, we know that there are limits to personal choice,” he said. “Even with so-called safeguards, to allow people to choose to have help to kill themselves would be open to exploitation and abuse.” ~ London Telegraph, Aug 28

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