Assisted Suicide

March 21, 2012, 3:38 PM GMT+0

If suffering incurable disease, 43% would contemplate assisted suicide, while 23% wouldn't consider it an option

More than 2 in 5 British adults claim that if they had a terminal disease for which there is no possible cure, they would consider the option of assisted suicide, and even travel abroad to do so if necessary. Meanwhile, just under a quarter say they would not consider assisted suicide an option, our poll shows.

  • 48% would personally consider the option of assisted suicide, travelling abroad if necessary
  • 23% would not consider assisted suicide an option
  • 29% don’t know or would prefer not to say

Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Some Britons suffering from incurable ailments have travelled as far afield as Switzerland for access to assisted suicide.

The majority of Britons feel that people with incurable diseases should have the right to ask loved ones to take part in assisted suicide without risking their prosecution, while less than 1 in 5 feel British laws should remain unchanged.

  • 74% think the law should be changed so that people with incurable diseases have the right to ask close friends or relatives to help them commit suicide, without them having to risk prosecution
  • 13% feel that British laws should be kept as they are

In January, the council of Europe ruled that Euthanasia and assisted suicide should be banned in every country in the continent, stating that “euthanasia, in the sense of the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit must always be prohibited”.

The defence of ‘necessity’

Many critics oppose the current British laws, with many suffering from terminal and/or incurable diseases wishing to be granted the right to assisted suicide.

Tony Nicklinson, a 57 year old man with locked-in syndrome, has recently won the right to have his case decided by a high court. Nicklinson, who is paralysed below the neck after a stroke seven years ago, is seeking the legal right for a doctor to intervene to end his "indignity" while having a "common law defence of necessity" against any murder charge.

Nicklinson has released a statement saying "It's no longer acceptable for 21st-century medicine to be governed by 20th-century attitudes to death." His wife, Jane Nicklinson, told the Guardian that “Twenty or perhaps thirty years ago… he wouldn't have survived the stroke, and I think that's nature's way. Medicine has overtaken the law.”

Standards of when life is 'unlivable'

The Pro-Life Alliance have campaigned against the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide, claiming that if this legislation is lifted, then it may become a slippery slope as to when one might define it a necessity. According to Simon Hopkins: "The general consensus of a ‘right to life’ would gradually be supplanted by a ‘right to death’"

When considering euthanasia being legalized due to necessity, Hopkins writes on the Pro-Life Alliance website: "Unspoken standards would be drawn up over at what stage life would be deemed ‘unlivable'…keeping people alive with a perceived low quality of life would be considered cruel and treated by killing, rather than improved pain relief and practical help."

See the full details and results here