Sunday, 12 March 2017

Assisted Dying

Pavan Dhaliwal is currently Director of Campaigns at the British
Humanist Association (BHA) and Vice President of the European Humanist Federation. She is shortly to be leaving the BHA but is trying to put in place a strategic plan before she leaves.

Following Brexit, this is not the most favourable time for campaigning on Humanist issues. The BHA has been supporting Northern Ireland Humanists who have called for safe access to legal abortions and an end to prosecutions following news that a woman has been reported to police and charged in connection with using abortion pills, bought on line. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland except on grounds of health whereas women in England, Scotland and Wales have access to the morning after pill and, if necessary, safe abortions. Very few organisations support the woman and these cases have a disproportionate effect on lower income people.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Humanist marriages do not carry legal status unless a Registrar is present. Often couples have to also marry in a Registry Office. In Scotland Humanist marriages have legal status. It only requires a Statutory Instrument to legalise Humanist Marriages in the rest of the UK as the legislation has already gone through Parliament. The BHA are using the precedent of Scotland to enable the legislation here.

One of the core areas of campaigning is that of assisted dying. The BHA is the only organisation to request this for people with incurable suffering and not just the terminally ill. Individuals have the right to live their lives and make un-coerced decisions about their death. For those physically incapable of ending their own lives the compassionate thing would be to help. This is at present illegal. It is not the intention that legalisation of assisted dying would be a replacement for a patient centred approach to end-of –life care and it is thought that very few people would qualify. Humanist need good safeguards and Assisted Dying wold not be a replacement for palliative care.Individual cases considered were Tony Nicklinson (now dead) and Paul Lamb. The Paul Lamb case went to the Supreme Court with nine judges sitting, the first time all nine had sat. They decided that, although it was within their jurisdiction, Parliament should take the decision with legislation. As yet they haven’t done so. Paul Lamb is not yet ready to die, but he wants the right when the time comes. Many people take their lives early whilst they are still capable, and they would be able to live longer. At present people accompanying patients to Dignitas may be prosecuted.

There is no political will in Parliament for such legislation. The Church of England oppose it by talking about safeguarding life and slippery slopes. They avoid terms such as sanctity of life.

Unfortunately Pavan had to leave early to catch her train, but the meeting continued with a robust discussion of the issues.

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