In light of the failure of the Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Commons today, I can't help but wonder why people are so against the idea of legalising euthanasia. Nobody's forcing you to die, so why should you be able to prevent other people from that choice? Many of the main arguments include having respect for the sanctity of life, a fear that the vulnerable will come under pressure from family or friends to use the service, and suggestions that better palliative care could negate the need for euthanasia. However, while these are all valid arguments, I do not subscribe to the thought that any of these reasons override the principal of autonomy.
The government simply should not be able to tell another individual when they should or should not be allowed to die. The bill itself had a number of pretty solid proposals to prevent any potential abuse of the system, specifically the approval of two doctors and a high court judge. In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, about a third of people who were prescribed the drugs necessary then decided not to take them and extend their life, illustrating that people take comfort in just being able to have the choice, although they may not necessarily take it. To take the autonomy argument even further, there are a lot of people who believe the choice to die in a clinic should be available for all people and not just the terminally ill, as we ultimately should own ourselves.
Another reason beyond autonomy as to why this bill should have passed, is compassion for those who are suffering and in pain, or even just having the ability to decide the terms on which you die, surrounded by friends and loved ones. British people are the second most frequent visitors of Dignitas in Switzerland, so there is clearly demand for legal euthanasia within the UK, yet the government's decision today has simply limited the ability of those who are less well off to make that decision. A trip to Dignitas can cost between €4,000 and €7,000, not including the cost of flights and accommodation for family members. That's something many people in the UK are not financially able to do; the legalisation of euthanasia in the UK would have made this fundamentally humane practice more accessible for people of all income levels.
Although it is estimated 1 in 5 people allow family circumstances to influence their decision, there is no reason why a person should not be allowed in their own right to not want to burden their family. Scott Alexander found that euthanasia does not disproportionately affect the elderly and that 99.8% of Dutch euthanisations were in cases where the pain was said to be “unbearable”, clearly showing that family pressure is not a primary reason behind euthanasia. The court and doctor checks suggested by the UK bill were part of a process to ensure external pressure is therefore not a reason behind the patient's decision. In addition, instances where euthanasia has been permitted for psychological reasons rather than terminal illness are minimal, with one case Belgium being the exception to this rule.
The percentage of deaths in Oregon caused by euthanasia last year was only 0.3%. The bill that failed today was not an act to encourage suicide or make it 'the norm', as it clearly is not in Oregon, but a logical and compassionate way to extend the freedoms of people in the UK. The government regulates enough already, the wishes of a terminally ill person should be one area free from their interference.