Balancing dignity and choice: The case for assisted dying as an affirmation of life's most profound values

13 March 2024, 12:16

Balancing dignity and choice: The case for assisted dying as an affirmation of life's most profound values
Balancing dignity and choice: The case for assisted dying as an affirmation of life's most profound values. Picture: LBC/Alamy
  • Andrew Copson is the Chief Executive of Humanists UK, which has advocated for assisted dying laws for over a century.
Andrew Copson

By Andrew Copson

With the campaign for assisted dying back in the news, its opponents have stepped up their own advocacy against it.

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They argue that the culture that legal assisted dying would produce would be harmful to the values of our society: the value of life and the value of supporting the vulnerable.

On the contrary, the case for assisted dying is a positive affirmation of clear and positive values and these values are capable of being shared by people of all different religious and non-religious beliefs alike.

Among the most fundamental values that make the case for change are individual dignity, respect for personal choice, our compassion for unbearable suffering, and a commitment to honesty about the limits of current medical capabilities.

Supporters of assisted dying believe in the dignity of every human life, and by this they mean quality of life, not just the number of weeks lived.

When a terminal or incurable illness degrades this dignity, denying individuals the right to a peaceful and controlled death can strip them of the ultimate act of self-determination.

Dignity lies not in prolonging pointless suffering beyond endurance but in the grace of control over the final chapter of a person’s life.

Of course, people have different preferences as to what is endurable and that is why respect for personal choice in relation to decisions about their own body matters.

Competent adults who find their incurable suffering intolerable should have the freedom to choose the manner and timing of their own death.

To deny them this choice is to deny their control over a profound aspect of their existence - if freedom of choice means anything, it must include control over our own selves.

In respecting this control, supporters of assisted dying are also valuing compassion. Modern palliative care is a remarkable testament to the human desire to cure suffering, but even the most advanced care cannot always alleviate our physical and emotional anguish.

In those circumstances, assisted dying is not an act of despair but the ultimate expression of compassion—a merciful way to end pain through a restoration of dignity and choice.

We mustn’t shy away from this reality, and that’s where the value of honesty comes in. The alternative to assisted dying is not that everyone lives happily ever after.

The alternative to assisted dying is the suffering of vulnerable people as they starve themselves to death in the UK while their friends and families watch on or fly off to die in a foreign country far from home and earlier than they might wish.

Honesty compels us to acknowledge that even the best efforts may not lead to a peaceful death.

Denying assisted dying can mean forcing individuals to endure prolonged, agonising declines with no chance of recovery.

The medical community must be honest about its limitations while respecting the right of individuals to determine the circumstances of their passing.

Granting the option of assisted dying with adequate safeguards is about trusting the individual, respecting their right to make deeply personal choices, responding to immense suffering with humanity, and acknowledging the limits of medicine and care.

It is not a rejection of life but a profound affirmation of the highest and most life-affirming values.

LBC Views provides a platform for diverse opinions on current affairs and matters of public interest. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official LBC position.

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