Leading brain surgeon calls for inquiry into law on assisted dying
Leading brain surgeon, 71, who is suffering with advanced prostate cancer says inquiry into laws on assisted dying is ‘essential’ as he joins MPs calling for review
- Henry Marsh received an advanced prostate cancer diagnosis six months ago
- The retired neurosurgeon has joined calls for an inquiry into assisted dying
- He called out politicians’ ‘striking lack of compassion’ in avoiding the issue
- A petition for an inquiry by Humanists UK has been signed by more than 50 MPs and peers
A leading brain surgeon diagnosed with an advanced stage of cancer has said an inquiry into assisted dying is ‘absolutely essential’.
Henry Marsh, 71, said he was ‘filled with dread’ at the thought of dying slowly when he was told he had prostate cancer six months ago.
The typical mortality rate for people in stages three and four of the disease is between one and five years.
The retired neurosurgeon has now supported a call by dozens of politicians for the government to hold an inquiry into assisted dying.
A petition by Humanists UK demanding assisted dying legislation be looked at again has been signed by more than 50 MPs and peers.
Leading brain surgeon Henry Marsh, 71, who diagnosed with an advanced stage of prostate cancer, has said an inquiry into assisted dying is ‘absolutely essential’
The retired neurosurgeon has now supported a call by dozens of politicians for the government to hold an inquiry into assisted dying
The strongly worded letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland says that the UK has fallen behind the rest of the world on assisted dying laws, and that Parliament ‘cannot turn a blind eye’ to the issue any longer.
Currently, assisting a suicide is a crime in England and Wales and is punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
Campaigners say that assisted dying is different to suicide because it is purely for people suffering from terminal conditions such as cancer.
Speaking about his own cancer diagnosis, Mr Marsh told the BBC he was ‘deeply shocked and terribly frightened and upset’ as it ‘gradually dawned on him how serious the situation was’.
Mr Marsh, who is also a best-selling author, is due to start radiotherapy treatment in a few months’ time.
The strongly worded letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland says Parliament ‘cannot turn a blind eye’ to the issue any longer and that the UK has fallen behind the rest of the world
Currently, assisting a suicide is a crime in England and Wales and is punishable by up to 14 years in jail. Pictured: Justice Secretary Robert Buckland
‘Having spent a lifetime operating on people with cancer, the prospect of dying slowly from it myself fills me with dread,’ he said.
‘Despite the best efforts of palliative medicine, I know that dying from cancer can still be a very horrible business – for both patient and family, despite what the opponents of assisted dying claim.
Humanists UK’s petition for a public inquiry into assisted dying
To the Secretary of State for Justice,
It has now been half a decade since Parliament last examined legislation to legalise assisted dying, and fifteen years since it formally scrutinised the evidence.
In that time, the number of Britons travelling to Switzerland had rocketed sixfold; successive countries, including Canada, Germany, Italy, and parts of the United States and Australia have legalised assisted dying, demonstrating that such changes can be achieved in a safe and compassionate way.
Public opinion has dramatically risen to nearly 90% supporting a change in the law for the terminally ill and incurably suffering; and there has been a significant shift in medical opinion and from within the disability community.
The evidence on assisted dying has simply changed, and Parliament cannot afford to turn a blind eye any longer.
Please, call a public inquiry so the voices of the terminally and incurably ill can at last be heard on this issue in Parliament.
‘I fiercely believe that if people in my situation knew they had the ability to choose how, when, and where they would die, it would greatly reduce their suffering. Knowing that I had this choice, if life became unbearable, would certainly give me much greater confidence now in facing whatever the future might hold for me.
‘But as the law stands, I am not allowed this comfort, and the law insists instead that I must suffer. Many politicians have shown a striking lack of compassion by ducking this issue for too long, and are inadvertently guilty of great cruelty.’
Mr Marsh added that he believed opponents to an inquiry into assisted dying ‘fear’ that the evidence is so strong ‘that their hypothetical arguments against it don’t hold water’.
‘Irrespective of your view on assisted dying, I would hope everyone could agree that our laws should be based on evidence and informed decisions, not alarmist, unfounded opposition that flies in the face of all the evidence from countries where assisted dying has been legalised.
‘It’s time for all MPs to start taking this issue seriously and I urgently call upon them to undertake an inquiry into the law.’
Parliament last voted on assisted dying when Rob Marris MP’s private member’s bill for the terminally ill made it to the Commons in 2015, but it was rejected by 330 to 118.
Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson said he was ‘deeply sorry’ to hear of Mr Marsh’s diagnosis and praised his ‘brave work’ on assisted dying reforms.
‘The ability to choose how, where, and when we die is a fundamental freedom, which cuts across party political and ideological lines.
‘In coming together to demand an inquiry, Henry and the lawmakers who have signed this letter have put the voices of the terminally ill and incurably suffering at the centre of the debate.
‘We urge the Justice Secretary not to shy away from the difficult questions posed by assisted dying, and to launch an inquiry or call on Parliament to do so, to ensure these voices are given the fair hearing they deserve.’
The Care Not Killing alliance, which opposes assisted dying, has said the current law protects vulnerable elderly people ‘from being pressured into ending their lives’.
The group chief executive Dr Gordon Macdonald said: ‘Our current laws protect the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly, the sick and disabled from feeling pressured into ending their lives, exactly as we see in the handful of places around the world that allow assisted suicide or euthanasia.
‘At a time when we have seen how fragile our NHS is, how underfunding puts pressure on services, and when up to one in four Brits who would benefit from palliative care, but does not currently receive it, to be pushing this ideological policy, seems out of touch, dangerous and desperate.’
Who has signed the letter calling for an inquiry into assisted dying?
The letter has been signed by 56 MPs and peers, including the two co-chairs of the All Party-Parliamentary Humanist Group Crispin Blunt MP and Baroness Bakewell. Other signatories include:
Aaron Bell MP
Andy Slaughter MP
Lord Young of Norwood Green
Beth Winter MP
Caroline Lucas MP
Christine Jardine MP
Chris Law MP
Clive Betts MP
Clive Lewis MP
Lord Low of Dalston
Lord Stevenson of Coddenham
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe
Duncan Baker MP
George Howarth MP
Huw Merriman MP
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Lord Purvis of Tweed
The Earl of Sandwich
The Duke of Somerset
Lord Barker of Dorking
Kevin Hollinrake MP
Margaret Hodge MP
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle
The Earl of Clancarty
Rachel Hopkins MP
Steve McCabe MP
Tommy Sheppard MP
Tracey Crouch MP
Lord Davies of Stamford.
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