Sir, Dr Henry Marsh (Apr 2) says the law does not allow him choice over his death and “insists instead that I must suffer”. That is not so. As a doctor, surely he knows that he can halt any life-prolonging treatment he is receiving at any time? If he does so, his doctors have a duty of care to alleviate any pain or other symptoms of his illness; given today’s specialist palliative care, in which Britain is a world leader, those are far from being empty words. What the law does prohibit is his intentional killing. This is a necessary protection if vulnerable people are to be protected. There is widespread misinformation being spread by campaign groups about the law. Existing law and procedure combines the deterrence of malicious activity with the discretion to be applied compassionately where the circumstances justify.
We are surprised that Dr Marsh praises Canada. He says that he has studied the evidence, including what he describes as “robust safeguards”. Unfortunately those “safeguards” are being slackened almost before the ink is dry on the page. If Canada’s “medical aid in dying” is now the model for campaigning groups here, the public need to be told precisely what they are being asked to accept.
Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, FMedSci
House of Lords
Sir, The law exists as much to grant protection as to permit the exercise of individual autonomy (letters, Apr 3 & 5). A common concern behind requests for assisted suicide in other jurisdictions is not the fear of pain, loss of control or indignity (none of which is inevitable at the end of life) but the desire not to be a burden to others. Subtle pressure to agree to die from relatives and even some healthcare professionals who may have their own interests and concerns, is very hard to detect. No set of safeguards guarantees complete safety all the time, and in assisted suicide the chief witness after the event will be dead. How many deaths by assisted suicide that were not the true wish of the person who dies are those in favour of legalisation prepared to countenance in order that they might exercise their autonomy?
Dr Kathryn Myers
Ret’d consultant in palliative medicine, St Albans