An influential commission set up and funded by novelist Sir Terry Pratchett who has Alzheimer’s Disease whose members include Sir Graeme Catto the former president of the GMC say there is a ‘strong case’ for allowing assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill.
The Commission on Assisted Dying’s 12 month long investigation, published today concludes that the current system is "inadequate".
It said it was possible to allow assisted dying for someone who is diagnosed as terminally ill within a strict set of rules to ensure it was not abused.
The commission took evidence from 1300 sources but the British Medical Association refused to take part. A spokesman commented: "While, there is a spectrum of views on assisted dying within the medical profession, the BMA believes that the majority of doctors do not want to legalise assisted dying."
The Commission is made up of influential lay and expert members including the former justice secretary Lord Falconer, Professor Sam Ahmedzai, professor of palliative medicine at the School of Medicine and Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Dr Carole Dacombe, medical director of St Peter’s Hospice and former psychiatrist Baroness Elaine Murphy secretary of the all party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health and vice president of the Alzheimer’s Society.
It received evidence from more than 1,300 sources during its inquiry, although some groups opposed to a change in the law refused to take part because of its remit and way it was put together.
The group said that assisted suicide should be allowed if a person was over 18, terminally ill and judged as having less than 12 months to live, making a voluntary choice and not impaired mentally.
Before it should be allowed, the person would also need to be independently assessed by two doctors, as being terminally ill with less than 12 months to live the report said. They also stress the patient should be fully consenting and not mentally impaired in any way. This would exclude dementia patients including Sir Terry from the right to take their own lives, as they would not be considered mentally fit enough in the final year of the condition.
People with locked in syndrome or other significant physical impairment would also be barred but a cancer patient with a nine-month prognosis would meet the criteria.
It also suggested that the individual would have to take the medicine themselves because euthanasia - where another person administers the substance - should not be allowed.
And it said end-of-life care needed to be improved to ensure people were not pushed into the decision because of inadequate access to care.
With all these factors in place, the commission said there was a "strong case" for allowing assisted dying.
However, one of the 11 commissioners, Reverend Canon Dr James Woodward, disagreed with the conclusion. The commissioners also said the current arrangements were "inadequate, incoherent and should not continue".
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said the report was "comprehensive and robust", adding she hoped it would "form the foundation of future legislative change".
But Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of Care Not Killing, an alliance of faith and disability groups and doctors, said: "This investigation was unnecessary, biased and lacking in transparency, and its report is seriously flawed.
"It is being spun as a comprehensive, objective and independent review into this complicated issue. It is anything but."