Should terminally-ill people be given the right to die?
Peers are debating whether doctors should be allowed to help some terminally ill people to die.
The private member's bill would enable "a competent adult who is suffering unbearably as a result of a terminal illness to receive medical assistance to die at his/her own considered and persistent request".
The British Medical Association has dropped its opposition to assisted dying,
but church leaders have spoken out against the proposal.
Do you think terminally-ill people should be given the right to die? Could a right-to-die become a duty to die?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
The choice between "death with dignity" by euthanasia or months of suffering and agony is simply not the only choice. I am a palliative care doctor and I have seen many very peaceful deaths with good care. I have also had patients request euthanasia who no longer wish for it when their pain is controlled or other symptoms treated. Palliative care provision is patchy in this country, and what we desperately need is more resources for good care.
Each of us owns our own lives and thus should be allowed to make our own decisions about what we want to do with that life. If euthanasia could be properly implemented it could put an end to much unnecessary suffering. The process would have to involve counselling of the patient and family to ensure that the decision is the patients own and has not been influenced by outside parties. But the Church should have no say in this matter.
Olivia, Cape Town, South Africa
This is an issue which transcends national boundaries, and world religions rightly express their stance on it. The 'duty to die' becomes clearer in the context of poverty. If we in the developed world have the resources that can be mustered to care for our terminally ill but are willing to find a cheaper and so-called more dignified solution, what real choice is there for the terminally-ill in areas of the world riddled with Aids and other diseases for which resources are not available?
Maria, Argyll, Scotland
Religion only has a part to play in the personal choice of the person who is ill. The morals of any group of people cannot be allowed to outweigh that person's choice.
Rev Paul Farnhill, Manchester, UK
I am a GP, mainly retired now, and can honestly say that I have never found a patient who could not be helped in their final illness, particularly in the aspect of pain relief and I have been very impressed by the care and professionalism of our Macmillan nurses and hospices. As far as religion is concerned, I am delighted that the Church is defending the importance of life and implicitly the value of suffering. They could hardly do otherwise, bearing in mind that Christians try to emulate Christ who offered his sufferings for the salvation of mankind. Nevertheless.
Anthony Clift MD, Manchester
This is very scary. I know several elderly people who would ask to die rather than be a burden on relatives. Surely this cannot be right.
CC, London. UK
Just as I am able to choose my lifestyle so I should be able to choose the manner of my death if I am competent and suffering unbearable distress from my terminal condition. Palliative care may be able to alleviate my physical pain, it will help my psychological distress at my loss of function and independence. Voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide is a humane choice in Holland which has the vast majority of the country in support - it can work well here.
Graham Nickson, Hertfordshire, UK
Clergy bashing is easy sport, but most of the objections that clergy articulate aren't exclusively religious but come from a vast experience of pastoral care to the dying and bereaved. Protagonists in this extraordinarily difficult debate never answer why those with most experience of caring for the dying, such as GPs and palliative care specialists, are the most resolutely opposed. These proposals are being driven by creating a climate of fear and a naive insouciance towards the vulnerable. It is not, of course, about a "right to die" but a right to be killed by someone else: professionally assisted homicide.
James, Abergavenny, UK
The current law is shambolic. It is legal for doctors to "withhold" treatment, entailing a prolonged and debilitating death, but prohibited for a painless dose to be applied in accordance with the patient's wishes. The BMA are correct; the patient's wishes should be respected as paramount.
Alex, London, UK
Those in favour of this legislation argue for "choice". In Belgium, half the infant deaths last year were due to euthanasia. Did those children have a "choice"? We must protect the defenceless and weak at all costs. I say so as someone who watched my grandmother die in great pain. The arguments against this bill are not religious ones alone; they stem from our common humanity.
DJ, Sheffield, UK
A relative close to me died a few years ago from a stroke. Whilst he was lying in hospital, blinded and paralysed from the stroke we were asked if our 90-year-old relative should be resuscitated, we said no. The hospital doctors of course agreed with our wishes and we were left for a week waiting for the inevitable to happen watching him suffer to the end. If it's perfectly acceptable to choose resuscitation or not why then is it not acceptable to be helped towards the end with comfort and dignity?
Phil Hoden, Lincoln
Nobody should have to live like a 'vegetable', but for euthanasia to work you would have to make that decision when on sound mind and have included on a will. if you have stated, when of sound mind, that you do not wish to live in a vegetative state then that should be upheld. I know for one that I do not wish to end up in that situation let alone that state.
Having watched my terminally ill father plead with his doctor to be 'put away' I support the 'right to die' bill but agree that the question of appropriate safeguards, both for the patient and the doctor are vitally important. I cannot see how Dr Rowan Williams can promote his 'gift from God that we cannot treat as a possession of our own to keep or throw away' without also seeking bans on smoking, drink, dangerous sports, driving and a host of other activities in which we treat life as ours to 'throw away'.
Dr WS Affleck, Nailsworth, UK
It is not just religious leaders who oppose the Bill, but doctors and nurses. The British Medical Association has declared a "neutral stance" which is not representative of many doctors' views. After all, doctors pledge to uphold the Hippocratic Oath which means that they cannot provide the means for a patient in their care to take their own lives , and just stand by and watch. Either the centuries old Hippocratic Oath is re-written or else it will become nothing more than the Hippocratic Oath.
Timothy Bemrose, Exeter Devon
No one should be forced to live when pain and discomfort have become unbearable and there is no hope of a cure. As long as the decision is taken by the person themselves, with due consideration, who are we to deny that final choice? The Church has a right to it's view but it should not enforce this on others.
HW, Cambridge, UK
I had a sister who was in coma for few days. In her last day, the doctor told my family that even if she survived she might become a vegetable. So they took off all the machines that were connected to her body. If I could turn back time, I wouldn't have let them do that. How can you tell that person was willing to give in? What if she was fighting back? It was a horrible memory for me. It's hard to cope with that. It's been seven years and I'm still missing her so much, every single day.
The euthanasia issue really does have striking parallels with the abortion debate. It is a matter of individual choice - and nothing else. The only people who have any right to a say on when and how I die, should I ever be diagnosed with a terminal illness, are my family and closest friends. But even they can only offer me their advice and opinion. The final choice must be mine and mine alone.
Mark Allen, England
This is the thin edge of yet another wedge being driven by cost against the human condition. For centuries there has, rightly in my thoughts, been a clear understanding that the duty of all carers is to prolonging human life - regardless of cost. For too long the PC brigade have propped up the cost cutters to the detriment of life for all.
David Hodgson, Swindon, England
I am a UK citizen living in the Netherlands where euthanasia is legal. I had no real opinion on the subject until a friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was shocked by the lack of palliative care offered and the 'gentle' pressure exerted on him for euthanasia. I was present when he was 'put to sleep' and found it a deeply shocking event. My worry is that the UK would follow the Netherlands as euthanasia is a much cheaper option than the UK's excellent Macmillan Nurse Scheme and Hostel care. I am deeply worried that euthanasia could become an excuse not to provide decent palliative care.
Glyn Williams, Netherlands
Having watched largely powerless as both my parents lingered painfully at their ends, far longer than I or they wished them to have to because their doctors were frightened of assisting them, I am a passionate advocate of the right to choose how I die. While I accept and try to respect the views of those influenced by religious beliefs, it is unacceptable that the vast majority of us in the United Kingdom who do not share these beliefs should be told that it is not right that we should be helped to die on our own terms, in dignity and not just hope that we are lucky enough to be treated by one of the very many caring, humane doctors who risk flaunting the criminal law by helping their patients at the end of their lives. Lord Joffe's Bill is a logical, humanitarian response to a strongly-held public wish.
As a practising doctor I strongly support this Bill. The aim is to relieve symptoms in those who are near death and suffering unbearably despite all else on offer. The doctors have to check on these points. They are not expected to kill anyone but to listen to and assist those few patients who find the suffering involved in their last remaining days too much to bear. The Bill should also give the patient much more protection than at present, as regards a quiet escalation of palliative care drugs, the so-called "double-effect". I do not want to have to die miserably because of someone else's religious beliefs.
Simon, Ashford, Kent, UK
As several commentators have pointed out there is a much better alternative to euthanasia and it is called palliative care. However it costs money and resources. Could it be that economics are playing a part in the way our society is going??
Kevin Thompson, Reading
The right to die with dignity should be a fundamental human right, there is no question there. However, legal structures must be put in place to assure people that at no point will any pressure ever be placed on the patient to do so.
It is well documented that what drives many gravely or terminally ill people to want to end their lives is the pain and suffering they endure. With good nursing and pain control many would choose to live, not die. We must ask where we are failing, and we are, in making these people (whom we may replace some day) feel valued and pain-free. Recent TV documentary evidence shows that in some hospitals the care for these people is woefully below standard. The culture of lack of respect and care for the elderly has been exacerbated by transferring geriatric care to the private sector (and so losing much needed expertise in the care and treatment of the elderly) and the denial of food and hydration, now termed 'treatment'.
David, Manchester, UK
The right to die should not overshadow the right to live. My fear is that by granting some the right to die we may end up denying many the right to live.
As a nurse I say we need a radical rethink on how we care for our dying. I have worked in palliative care for a long time, and the more deaths I see, the less in favour of euthanasia I become. We should assist terminally ill people only by supporting them, caring and keeping them pain free. Indeed, any other right to die would rapidly become a duty to die, and possibly end in murder in a society that loathes imperfection and ageing - as ours does.
Debbie, Nottingham, UK
Regardless of one's position in the euthanasia debate, it is quite clearly wrong to argue that "religion has no part in this discussion". Our attitudes to life and death, and how we care for the most vulnerable in our society, are matters of profound concern to all people of religious affiliation, and to many of none. It would be a derogation of religious leaders' duty not to express their honestly felt opinions on such matters of ultimate importance, and to fail to stand up for their belief in the sanctity and value of human life.
Hannah, Oxford, UK
What respect for human life is there watching someone slowly and painfully die over a period of time when they want to end their suffering there and then. And just what business is it of the Church? Church leaders should have no say in the matter whatsoever.
Nell, Tring, Herts
One element of the argument is that of cost. It is relatively cheap to give a person drugs which will end their life. It is much more expensive to provide good quality palliative care and drugs which will prolong life. Palliative care provision in this country is extremely patchy, and this is why many people have seen relatives dying in pain. I, for one, would rather be part of a society that agreed to pay for palliative care, rather than a country which goes for the cheaper option of killing unwell patients.
Nik, Stoke on Trent
I believe every adult human being of sound mind should be able to make this decision for him or herself without intervention or interference from any unwanted or unsolicited persons, societies, authorities or religious groups.
Richard, Dubai, UAE
This is opening up a whole can of worms. Even if the intention is to "help" in some way there will always be scope for abuse. Human nature isn't that good. I feel bad for allowing my cat to be put to sleep yesterday. If so for an animal, how much more so for humans? What respect for human life if these "right-to-die" people get their way?
Religion has no part in this discussion. The relevant phrase is "competent adult", who as I understand it must administer the overdose to themselves. I have a right to control my own destiny, as long as it does not harm anyone else, without some deluded religious objection.
Unbearable suffering is not living. By assisting someone to die it is bringing them peace and rest rather than prolonging the torture they are experiencing. If it is a patients request to die, who are we to not only deny them that, but also force them to suffer the pain of living?
Arrabella Marterino, Devon, UK
Public opinion already reflects the common sense behind giving people a choice. The reality of death in our society is not what people think. The majority of people don't die at home, peacefully surrounded by their families. Death, all too often comes with pain and unnecessary suffering. Let's be grown up about this and, as with so many other matters, just ignore the Church.
As a GP, I have looked after many dying patients, even held a few hands at the end. I have prescribed and administered powerful drugs which have, I am certain, shortened some lives. Yet I am wholly against euthanasia. The best way to answer someone's fears about what they may go through is to explain what palliative care can achieve, not to promise a quick fix. I have never yet seen a patient who could not be greatly helped by good palliative care, yet I have seen many who needed great reassurance that they were not "being a burden". Perhaps some of those would have taken the right-to-die option, if it was available, out of a sense of duty. Professionally, I would despair of my career were this to become law. I did not go into medicine to kill, but to care.
GP, West Yorkshire
I fail to understand what is 'Christian' about forcing someone who is terminally ill, in agony, to endure the unendurable just to justify someone else's religious beliefs.
Colin, Cambridge, UK
People should be given the right to die if they wish. However, strong safeguards must be put in place.
Neil Small, Scotland
Like abortion, it will begin 'for extreme cases only with safeguards' and turn into something much more open. Will the treatment be available on the NHS? What about waiting list guarantees? Will we have to wait until a bed is available - or how about a trolley in the corridor? Should nurses and paramedics be allowed to prescribe - to remove some load from doctors? Will there be tax benefits, or insurance premium reductions if we promise to take our medicine?
Ledger White, Rochester
Why should religious leaders have any say in what non-religious people are allowed to do?
I think terminally ill people should be allowed to make their own choices with regards to their own death. If it is seen as 'humane' to put a dying animal to sleep then it should be deemed equally humane to help assist a dying human. Forcing someone to endure a long and painful death is, in my opinion, wrong.
While I am personally in favour of the right to die I am more concerned that Bishops are attempting to impose their own faiths on the policy of the nation. If they wish to preach to their own congregations that this is not acceptable practice for an Anglican or a Catholic that is fine but they should not have the opportunity to vote on such matters for the nation due to this conflict of interest. If the BMA are not opposing it I do not see that anyone else has the right other than in a personal capacity to be against this law.
Stuart, London, England
How many of these church leaders who are against the proposal have seen a relative die in agony? I watched my mother dying of cancer and having seen that, will never be able to understand how anyone can oppose the right to die.
Cliff, Brussels, Belgium
A fundamental concern that I share with many over the opposition to euthanasia and the right to die is that opposition seems to be founded in the religious beliefs of others. As an atheist, why should I have the course of my life, and ultimately the end of it, planned according to the beliefs - and only beliefs - of strangers?
Jim, Birmingham, UK
People should the right to chose whether ending their life with assistance now is better than spending the next six months in agony. That decision is between the individual, their friends and family and God. While I can very much appreciate the opposition of religious groups, the concept that laws should be crafted around the will of God, rather than freedom and the best interests of the individual is fundamentally against the nature of a secular democracy.