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Why Parliament needs to rethink the law surrounding assisted dying

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Noel Conway has been left devastated after the Supreme Court rejected his application for a hearing.

Noel was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in November 2014. Since then the disease has progressed, leaving the 68-year-old wheelchair-bound and needing to use a ventilator for 20 hours a day.

Noel wants the option of being able to end his own life in the comfort and privacy of his own home, surrounded by friends and family. According to the law, Noel's only options are the removal of his ventilator, which would lead to a slow and painful death by suffocation, or travelling to Switzerland. However, this journey is not only expensive and hard to make, it could also put his family at risk of facing arrest when they returned to the UK.

What is Motor Neurone Disease (MND)?

MND is a rare condition which affects the brain and nerve cells, causing them to become damaged. It is a terminal illness which significantly shortens the life-span of the patient. Over time, the disease increasingly restricts movement, breathing, and the ability to swallow. 

After his diagnosis, Noel teamed up with the Campaign for Dignity in Dying, an organisation which believes “everybody has the right to a good death. Including the option of assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults”.

Dignity in Dying say they are “campaign [ing] for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high-quality end-of-life care.”

The late Stephen Hawking also suffered from Motor Neuron Disease

The late Stephen Hawking also suffered from Motor Neurone Disease: uk.anygator.com

Speaking to RT UK in 2017, Noel said, “I want to die when I’m ready to die...swiftly and without suffering”. 

However, according to the 1961 Suicide Act, anyone who might aid Noel in taking his life would face prison for up to 14 years. 

Why are there arguments against assisted dying?

Many MPs have argued that changing the law might have an extremely negative effect on those who are already psychologically vulnerable.

Speaking to the BBC in 2017, Dr Peter Saunders said that, ”Parliament have rejected this change to the law on at least ten occasions, on grounds of public safety, and the evidence from other jurisdictions shows that any change in the law to allow assisted suicide is both unnecessary and also dangerous, because it’s uncontrollable.”

However, Noel, along with many others, thinks that such a stance makes no sense, “to argue, as some have, that the moral climate will have been so tipped to place indirect pressure on people is spurious and hypothetical and not borne out by practice in those countries where there is such a law”. 

According to the BBC, ‘Mr Conway, who was too ill to attend the hearing in London, said it is "barbaric" that he must choose between "unacceptable options" to end his life’.

On the 27th November, Dignity in Dying released a statement from Noel:

“I am particularly disappointed that the Courts have instead listened to the arguments of doctors who have never met me but think they know best about the end of my life. I have no choice over whether I die; my illness means I will die anyway. The only option I currently have is to remove my ventilator and effectively suffocate to death under sedation. To me this is not acceptable, and for many other dying people this choice is not available at all.”

The Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, Sarah Wootton, said, “We will now turn our attention back to Parliament and demonstrate to our MPs the strength of feeling on assisted dying.

"Last time around, MPs failed in their duty to represent the views of their constituents. Next time, we hope they will stand up for a safer, more compassionate law that benefits dying people.”

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