Assisted death: Is the UK ready for change to make it legal?

Romilly Weeks presents a special report on the highly emotive and contentious issue of 'assisted dying'

We are not very good at talking about death in this country. But if you are facing a terminal illness or nursing a loved one at their end, that is not a luxury you have.

Everyone I interviewed for this report was very clear sighted about what was facing them and wanted MPs to be similarly brave about addressing the issue.

If you are looking at a death that you know is likely to drawn out, painful and undignified, should you really be denied the right to have a prescription for drugs which will speed and ease your death?

For someone like Jenny Carruthers, who has incurable breast cancer, it's unthinkable that you have control over every other aspect of your life and yet not how you leave it.

Campaigners want to see a change in the law that would allow assisted dying in limited circumstances. So, it would be an option only for those with a terminal illness, who are assessed by a doctor to be both mentally competent and have a short time left to live.

There is a distinction between assisted dying, where a terminally ill patient takes life ending drugs themselves, euthanasia, where a doctor ends someone's life or assisted suicide, where the patient is not terminally ill.

But is is possible to stop one sliding into another?

There are many voices, including the palliative care consultant who I interviewed for my report, who believe it's not.

Jenny told ITV News she wants control over how she dies. Credit: ITV News

Dr Amy Proffitt thinks that if assisted dying is legalised there is danger it would be extended to those who are not terminally ill. And what of the people who are told: we don't have a bed for you in a hospice, but there is this easy way out?

It's not an issue that MPs in Westminster have wanted to confront. The last vote on assisted dying was ten-years-ago.

But now an inquiry by MPs is taking evidence from campaigners and experts, and will advise the government on next steps. With Scotland, Jersey and the Isle of Man already looking at legislation and a majority of the public in favour of change, it's an issue that's becoming harder for MPs to ignore.

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