What the Assisted Dying Bill would mean for patients

Dying patients who want to control the timing of their death at present have to:

  • Refuse treatment
  • Voluntarily stop eating and drinking (which can be a slow process and involve prolonged  suffering)
  • Travel to Switzerland with a loved one or ask them to assist in another way (which risks prosecution for assisting the patient to die)
  • Attempt suicide in unsafe and unregulated conditions

These options contain no adequate, upfront safeguards.

Under the proposed law, after making the request patients could withdraw it at any point in the process. This withdrawal could be made in writing or by simply speaking to their doctor.

With a change in the law, dying adults would have a safe, legal option for controlling the manner
and timing of their death.

  • An assisted dying law would provide up-front safeguards in end-of-life decision making, ensuring that the patient is at the heart of the process
  • Any healthcare professional would have the right not to participate in the process on the grounds of conscientious objection
  • It would be rare for a dying patient to raise the issue of assisted dying and the number of actual requests would be very small - occurring only once every five to six years per GP practice
  • An assisted dying law would give dying adults peace of mind that they will have choice if their suffering becomes unbearable – it would not result in more people dying, but in fewer people suffering

 

How many people would choose an assisted death?

In Oregon USA it has been legal for terminally ill, mentally competent adults to have an assisted death for 17 years. In those 17 years there have been no cases of abuse and no calls to extend the law beyond terminally ill adults.

Using this data we can forecast how a change in the law would work in the UK:

  • Approximately 9,300 people a year would discuss the issue of assisted dying.
  • Approximately 1,600 people a year would wish to continue with a request, meet the eligibility criteria and receive a prescription for life-ending medication.
  • Approximately 990 people a year would take the prescribed life-ending medication and have an assisted death.

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HPAD have put together a briefing outlining the assisted dying process for healthcare professionals and patients – available for download here.