The unnecessary dangers of assisted suicide

MARGO MacDonald's intervention in the assisted suicide debate has provoked much emotive media coverage. However, when a more objective approach is taken, it becomes evident that the legalisation of assisted suicide is unnecessary, ethically wrong and dangerous.

Assisted suicide is unnecessary because effective palliative care is available to ease pain and distress associated with terminal and chronic illness. Evidence shows that the majority of pain and other symptoms experienced by the terminally ill can be relieved through specialists providing expert palliative care. Most people, who start off expressing a wish for assisted suicide or euthanasia change their minds once their pain is relieved. The logical next step therefore is to extend palliative care training and services.

Assisted suicide is ethically wrong because it denies the presence of human dignity, the concept that underpins human rights legislation. Being dependent on others does not remove dignity. We do not think of a baby as having less dignity than an adult, despite he/she being totally dependent on his/her parents. Similarly, a person with a terminal or chronic illness has no less dignity than anyone, but society needs to show this.

Finally, assisted suicide is dangerous because vulnerable people will feel pressurised into taking the option. In the state of Oregon, where assisted suicide for the terminally ill is legal, 11 per cent of patients who took this option did so because they perceived themselves to be a financial burden and another six per cent did so because of a lack of social support.

Many of those who would opt for assisted suicide are suffering from untreated depression or have a psychiatric illness. It is estimated that 80 per cent of terminally ill patients suffer from associated depression or other psychological and/or psychiatric problems. It should not be assumed that medical staff will diagnose and treat these illnesses during the process of facilitating assisted suicide.

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