Letters: A Bill that protects the vulnerable and allows those who are suffering to die with dignity

·9 min read
a doctor wearing a stethoscope - Lynne Cameron/PA
a doctor wearing a stethoscope - Lynne Cameron/PA

SIR – The letter from nearly 1,700 doctors to the Health Secretary opposing a change in the law on assisted dying is full of misleading statements.

The Bill, which could come to the Commons towards the end of the year, aims to legalise physician-assisted dying. It is confined to mentally competent individuals who, when faced with a terminal diagnosis and not expected to live for more than six months, may seek the option of a physician-assisted death. It specifically excludes assisted suicide, which is legal in some countries, but includes disabled people who may have many years to live. It is here that abuse could occur, and perhaps it is why the doctors opposing the Bill continue to refer erroneously to “assisted suicide”.

They also claim that legalising physician-assisted dying would involve doctors “taking lives” or “killing patients”. In reality, their role would be restricted to an assessment by two independent doctors to confirm the diagnosis, the patient’s mental competence and that the decision was not influenced by anyone else. If these requirements were met, a prescription would be lodged with a pharmacy and only called for by the patient if they decided that the time had come to end their suffering or indignity.

In Oregon, which has had a similar law for more than 20 years, one third of the patients who have registered for the option of an assisted death have never used it, but have drawn comfort from knowing it is there if needed.

Sir Terence English FRCS

SIR – Most people fear a horrible death and 85 per cent of us would like to have the option to hasten our death if life becomes unbearable. If palliative care, counselling or religion works for you, fine, you needn’t take it, but we need the choice. Whose life is it anyway?

Opponents of Baroness Meacher's Bill fear that grasping children will coerce dying parents into getting their doctors to see them off so they can inherit. This is scaremongering. If someone is going to die within six months anyway – which must be the case to qualify for assistance to die – why would anyone risk prosecution to get the money a few months earlier? And anyway, strict safeguards are proposed. We need to pass this Bill.

Dame Prue Leith
Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire

SIR – Many old people live on their own, at a distance from family who have no desire to support them. Medicine’s ability to extend life means that they often live with co-morbidities and increasing frailty. They find pain and anxiety, the loss of dignity and of purpose in their life, intolerable.

It is up to lawmakers to do something about this situation.

Linda Hughes
Newton Abbot, Devon

SIR – Charles Moore says the legalisation of assisted dying would “institutionalise self-destruction”, but nothing could be further from the truth. Assisted dying is a way of celebrating life.

My friend Bob was in excruciating pain and beyond the reach of palliative care. He took his final pill in 2015 at Dignitas with friends around him and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy playing. He should have been able to do this at home, not as a fugitive from an outdated justice system.

We need a compassionate new law that offers the safeguarded choice of an assisted death.

Michael Murray
Matlock, Derbyshire

SIR – In 2016 Canada legalised “assisted dying” for a very small segment of the population with intolerable suffering who were facing imminent death.

However, five years later eligibility for assisted death has been widened to include chronic illness, disability and, as of March 2023, mental illness. In other words, those who are not dying. Safeguards have been removed, and legislators might even allow the practice for mature minors.

In Canada, citizens have a “right” to assisted death, but not to assisted living. Assisted death is publicly funded and must be available in every region, yet no similar right exists to palliative care, home care, housing, or disability support. In some parts of the country it’s easier to get an assisted death than a wheelchair.

The impact on palliative medicine has been enormous. Hospices that do not offer assisted death face closure and loss of government funding, and specialists risk being marginalised and bullied if they object to participating.

Administering death is cheaper and easier than providing good care. Britain risks it becoming the solution for any form of human suffering, as we are seeing here in Canada.

Dr Leonie Herx
Past President, Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians
Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Booster jabs

SIR – I am a charity driver and have been taking elderly people for their Covid vaccinations at our excellent centre in Bracknell. Staffed entirely by volunteers, the service has been outstanding.

Now, however, when booster Covid and flu jabs are being offered, the place is often almost deserted, with volunteer vaccinators waiting for arms to jab. Appointments are easy to make online or on the phone, and available within a week or so. The service is there, and free of charge.

The Government needs to make this known rather than spreading alarm with doom-laden press conferences.

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

SIR – I had a reminder on Thursday to book my Covid booster jab and went online to do so.

I was asked to specify my needs and said an accessible lavatory and accessible parking. What came back was that they do not have either.

My GP surgery isn’t offering the booster, so it would appear that disabled people must simply do without it.

Anne P Giles
Croydon, Surrey

Flight to remember

SIR – In the late 1980s I flew overnight from Tokyo to London via Alaska.

As the rest of the cabin slept I was invited to the cockpit and spent a marvellous half hour with the crew watching the Northern Lights (Letters, October 18). It ensured my loyalty to British Airways.

John H Stephen
Bisley, Gloucestershire

Woke opera house

SIR – To please the woke brigade, the Royal Opera House has pledged to re-examine classic works to ensure performances account for “cultural sensitivities”.

Surely if people are not happy with the works of Puccini, then the ROH is not the place for them.

These works should be left alone for the vast majority of opera lovers who would never dream of thinking such masterpieces need to be “assessed”.

Janey Allan
London W7

SIR – When Madama Butterfly premiered in New York in 1900, the composer Giacomo Puccini famously fumed off stage when the audience booed what they regarded as an anti-American storyline.

That opera has since remained a firm favourite in opera houses worldwide, not least in America. I suggest the Royal Opera House has better things to do than waste time and money investigating the offensive nature of operas.

John Pritchard
Ingatestone, Essex

Front-line pharmacists

SIR – Elaine Winter (Letters, October 21) asks why more people don’t visit pharmacists to alleviate GPs’ workload.

She may not be aware that for years pharmacists have been providing a service well beyond not only their comfort zone but also what they feel can be safely achieved.

Last month they were told they would in future be expected to do basic health checks instead of GPs. Despite the parlous state of pharmacy funding, which has led to reduced staff numbers, they have been available for face-to-face consultations on a walk-in basis throughout the past 18 months. Yet it is GPs who are given extra money to offer services that they are already being paid to provide.

S B Hall-Turner
Daresbury, Cheshire

Shirt shrift

SIR – Invited to dine at the Savoy Grill Room in the 1970s, I rang in advance to ask whether my husband could wear his then fashionable white silk roll-neck shirt with his dinner suit (Letters, October 21).

The answer was prompt: any guest of our hosts was welcome, and my husband could always sit behind a pillar.

Liz Murray
London N20

How the Post Office used to push the envelope

An advertisement for the General Post Office by Jan Le Witt and George Him, 1940 - bridgeman
An advertisement for the General Post Office by Jan Le Witt and George Him, 1940 - bridgeman

SIR – Decades ago, when I worked for a local newspaper, a letter was passed on to us that had originally come from a Yorkshire couple who had holidayed in the West Country.

They were so enamoured of a certain chocolate-box, roses-round-the-door cottage that they sent a copy of a photo they had taken, along with a letter of appreciation, to the occupants. It was addressed to: The Occupants, The Cottage with Roses Round the Door, Opposite the Butcher, Near a Petrol Station, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.

An outstanding example of what the Post Office used to be able to do (Letters, October 21).

Anne Jappie
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

SIR – Here on the Isle of Wight we are lucky if we get one delivery a week.

No explanations, no excuses. The service has deteriorated almost to the point of non-delivery.

Simon Field
St Helens, Isle of Wight

SIR – I recently posted home-baked cakes to a grandson at university. On both occasions the cakes arrived the next day. However, the postage was greater than the value of the cake.

Sylvia Graham
London NW8

SIR – As a student in the 1960s I worked for Royal Mail at Christmas.My grandmother (who lived with us) thought Christmas cards were better if delivered by post. She asked me to post them. The next day I delivered them – including my own.

Ken Turrell

The Church’s bishops need to win back trust

SIR – Following the House of Bishops’ less than inspiring performance during the pandemic (during which parishioners were hard at work), the mismanagement of diocesan finances, an intellectually dubious and empirically untenable Anti-Racism Taskforce that alienated so many, and now plans for parishes that people with experience of financial and strategic planning consider wholly unrealistic, it is no wonder that the Bishop of Leicester and others are facing pushback (Letters, October 21).

Excellent communication and genuine dialogue are essential, and it is vital to get not just your staff on side but also those whom they serve – who are, after all, footing the bill.

Rev R C Paget
Brenchley, Kent

SIR – The decline of the Church of England has little to do with Leicester diocese’s “minster model”. The harsh reality is that very few people (apart from Muslims and Catholics) now regularly attend religious services.

The Anglican Church’s average weekly attendance is well below 800,000, while the average age of the few attendees is increasing rapidly.

Peter Froggatt
Dorking, Surrey

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