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Assisted Dying Should Be Legalised

Should assisted dying be viewed as a human right or as a danger to the most vulnerable people in our society?

Autonomy, dignity and compassion. We wish to experience these things in our lives, so why shouldn’t we experience them in our deaths? That’s the argument made by those who support a change in the law to legalise assisted dying in the UK. People who are suffering intractably, they claim, but who are too ill to self-administer life-ending medication should have the right to be helped to end their lives. This would give choice and control to people with a terminal illness, marking a change from the current situation in which they must either take their own lives while they still have the capacity to do so, or continue to live in the knowledge that they are likely to become trapped in a state of intolerable suffering, which they cannot be helped out of. Of course we need to be aware of the so-called ‘slippery slope’ argument, which holds that a change in the law would lead to a situation where it becomes acceptable to kill people who do not wish to die. But with proper safeguards in place, claim its supporters, legalised assisted dying would be the hallmark of a civilised society. 

Quite the reverse, argue those who would keep the law unchanged. Assisted suicide is not the private act of an individual, they say, but one that involves relatives, friends, healthcare staff and society at large. The ‘right to die’, they insist, imposes a ‘duty to kill’ on someone else, most likely a doctor, imposing restrictions on that person’s autonomy. And then there is the risk of coercion by family members who stand to gain by a relative’s death. All too easily, the ‘right to die’ can become the ‘duty to die’, as people who are sick or disabled feel they should stop being a financial or emotional burden on those around them. Assisted dying would make death not something that we must simply accept when the time comes but a decision that each individual is responsible for – a move that would be deeply damaging to our society. 

Should assisted dying be viewed as a human right or as a danger to the most vulnerable people in our society?


Speakers

For the motion

A. C. Grayling

Founder and Principal of New College of the Humanities at Northeastern University, and Professor of Philosophy.


Founder and Principal of New College of the Humanities at Northeastern University, and Professor of Philosophy. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. He is the author of over thirty books of philosophy, biography, history of ideas, and essays. For a number of years, he was a columnist for The Guardian, The Times, and Prospect magazine. He has contributed to many leading newspapers in the UK, US and Australia, and to BBC Radio 4, Radio 3 and the World Service. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Vice President of Humanists UK, Patron of the Defence Humanists, Honorary Associate of the Secular Society, and a Patron of Dignity in Dying.

Henry Marsh

One of Britain’s foremost brain surgeons and bestselling author of 'Do No Harm'


One of Britain’s foremost brain surgeons, who worked as a consultant neurosurgeon at St George’s Hospital in London for thirty years. His highly acclaimed memoir Do No Harm, an unflinchingly honest and moving account of his career as a neurosurgeon, won the PEN Ackerley prize in 2015. He travels the world teaching his craft and has worked with doctors in Ukraine since 1992.
Against the motion

Anne Atkins

Novelist and broadcaster


Anne Atkins has written four novels, her latest being An Elegant Solution. Her first play, Lady K, had been due to open at a prestigious theatre before the onset of the first lockdown. She has written several books of non-fiction and contributed chapters and introductions to many more. She has contributed to all the major national newspapers and written regular columns in The Daily Telegraph and Daily Express. Her first song, Anthem for Mary and David, co-written with musician son Ben in lieu of her father's funeral, can be found on youtube; her second has just been accepted for publication. She is also working on a First Folio edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream for children. She regularly contributes to Thought for the Day on Radio 4’s Today Programme.

Katherine Sleeman

Laing Galazka Chair in Palliative Care at King's College London and an honorary consultant in Palliative Medicine at King's College Hospital NHS Trust


Laing Galazka Chair in Palliative Care at King's College London and an honorary consultant in Palliative Medicine at King's College Hospital NHS Trust. She has experience of working across hospitals, hospices and community settings and her research focuses on understanding and improving care for people approaching the end of life, especially older people and those with dementia. She leads several large research programmes, including the Marie Curie-funded Better End of Life project, which produces an annual State of the Nation report on dying, death and bereavement in the UK. Her work has identified escalating needs for palliative care globally, inequalities in access to palliative care and outcomes such as achieving preferences for place of death, as well as weaknesses in evidence-informed policy relating to palliative and end of life care. In 2019 she won the European Association of Palliative Care's inaugural 'Women in Palliative Care' award for her work promoting gender equality. 
Chair

Guddi Singh

Paediatric doctor and TV presenter


Paediatric doctor and TV presenter, with wide experience in social justice and health equity. Singh has previously worked around the world, including with the World Health Organization (WHO), and is the current Advocacy lead for the British Association for Child and Adolescent Health and helps to manage the health think-tank, the Centre for Health and the Public Interest (CHPI). Singh’s presenting debut was as the host of BBC Two’s Babies: Their Wonderful World - the largest study on early child development ever attempted, BBC Two’s Trust Me I’m A Doctor and Al-Jazeera’s The Cure. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she co-hosted two BBC Two Horizon coronavirus specials, as well as Channel 4’s How to Avoid a Second Wave, followed by Why is Covid Killing People of Colour? on BBC One in 2021.