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'Will the UK ever permit assisted suicide?'


Respiratory nurse and Nursing Times blogger Janelle Yorke on why the assisted suicide debate is pertinent to respiratory nursing

As many of you may know, the RCN has recently released a consult on assisted suicide. Assisted suicide has received much media attention of late. It is a highly debatable topic with strong and emotive views on both sides. The issues surrounding the assisted suicide debate are pertinent to respiratory nursing as many patients with chronic respiratory disease will inevitably succumb to the illness. Unfortunately for some, this may be a painful and drawn out process.

Many respiratory nurses already provide end of life care. Some of you have undoubtedly been faced with ethical dilemmas throughout the course of providing this care.

There has been a number of high profile cases recently reported where family members have helped those who wish to end their life to travel oversees to receive life terminating treatment. Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK. As yet, no family member has been prosecuted for participating in the process of assisting their loved one to travel to such facilities (e.g. Dignitas in Zurich). However, should a nurse assist a patient to travel to such a destination the law and professional nursing bodies may take a different stance. Some would argue that the law should be changed so that those who demand the right to assisted suicide, and their families, do not need to go through the distress of travelling to another country.

Others claim that better provision for quality palliative care would help negate individuals from seeking assisted suicide. However, this does not cover instances where a person is not ‘terminally ill’, but find their life so intolerable that they consciously make the decision to end it. Such was the case with the 23 year old rugby player Daniel James who was paralysed during a match and, with the aid of his parents and family friend, travelled to Dignitas clinic to end his life. This was Daniel’s final act of self-determination. But this needs to be weighed against legislation that is there to protect the vulnerable, those who may feel such a burden to their family that it would be better if they were dead. The dilemma deepens.

Will legislation in the UK ever change to permit assisted suicide? Where does the line between providing palliative care begin to blur with hastening someone’s death? Is this a euphemism for euthanasia or even assisted suicide? All these questions are alive in many conversations among health care professionals. Therefore, the recently released RCN consultation paper on assisted suicide is extremely welcomed. However the conversation that takes place has to reflect the reality of practice and this can only come from the nurses who care for, and face the pain and distress of the dying every day. I would strongly encourage respiratory nurses to read and send a response to the consult. Nursing is a key component of end of life care and it is vitally important that we make our voices heard with such sensitive debates. However, it is important to approach the debate from a professional perspective rather than one’s own personal view point. This may be more easily said than done.


Readers' comments (6)

  • I think UK should permit assisted suicide.

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  • I thinkwe might be heading that way but with a strong christian belief I donot agreed on this issue

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  • I think that the UK should permit assisted suicide, but a full review to be taken in each and every case

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  • If a person has the mental capacity to make the decision to end their life then they should be allowed to do so.

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  • Dear Fellow Nurses,

    Should we end our love ones life? The answer is a big NO! We are not here to give or end ones life, we are here to support, experience life and give the best quality of life and care to our patient. Is not a question whether you believe or not,
    whether your a christian or muslim, white or black. Is a question of who you are, what you believe in and doing the right thing at all times! I strongly believe that there is someone out there who are in control of all things, someone more powerful and in charge of our lives! We dont give life, end life or help our love one to kill themselves but we are here to support our patients and their families in their painful experiences so they can recover and have a normal life again! I strongly believe that there is one law far more greater than medical law and all science and if we follow that law, we will never be wrong, never make a wrong decisions in our life and will always be confident in our job. Nursing is caring, giving and loving our patients/families to the best of our capabilities and knowing our limits and boundaries! So, fellow nurses, lets just do our job. We are all human and we are not God! Have a great day! Mary

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  • The human rights act says that everyones has the right to dignity! And many people do not have this choice when it comes to passing away or leading a possitive daily life.
    I beleive that assisted suicide should be permitted as i have seen many people suffer, and feel that they would of chosen this if it was possible.

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