A Letter to Simon Thomas AM on the Assisted Suicide Debate in the Welsh Assembly

Dear Simon,

Thank you for your email and its reference to your iwa article, A Right to Die?  [http://www.clickonwales.org/2014/12/a-right-to-die/]

I have no problem with you initiating the assisted suicide debate in the Welsh Assembly recently.  However, I am disappointed to learn that you support the principles of Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill.  Even so, I was pleased with the voting outcome – that sends a clear message to the UK Parliament that the Welsh Assembly is not in favour of legalising assisted suicide.  Let me add that I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of that debate.

Let me also add four additional points:

First, you state in your iwa article, ‘I believe that good law should empower the individual to control their lives as much as possible.’  I agree.  But good law should also protect the vulnerable and punish the offender. That is what the Suicide Act 1961 does.  You say, ‘It does not deter covert, illegal assistance …’  I disagree.  To some extent all good laws have a deterrent effect.  The problem with the 1961 Act has been the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service to uphold the law and prosecute lawbreakers.

Second, you cite Lynda Bellingham as an example of personal choice leading to a good death.  You are quite right.  She did not, of course, choose assisted suicide, but rather discontinued her chemotherapy and relied on palliative care to die at home with her family last October.  Her good death is in stark contrast to the much-publicised bad death of Jean Davies, the 86-year-old ex-teacher and assisted-suicide campaigner, in the same month.  She stubbornly refused all palliative care and starved herself to death over a five-week period.  The other great contrast between the two is that Bellingham was terminally ill, Davies was not.

Third, you rightly maintain that the Falconer Bill is based on the Oregon model.  But nearer home we are more familiar with the euthanasia models of the Netherlands and Belgium.  The rapid escalation of their numbers and scope has caused even the most ardent assisted-suicide advocates to think again. T here really is a slippery slope out there.

Fourth, I expect you have already read Ilora Finlay’s response to the Assembly debate, but if not, you can view it here, http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/news-opinion/the-wish-die-vanishes-terminally-ill-8282047

This issue will not go away and I hope that we can discuss it together in the future.