The TV show “Prue and Danny’s Death Road Trip” follows Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith and her son Danny as they travel across the US to explore end-of-life options. Prue Leith supports a change in the law in the UK, and her son Danny, a Conservative MP, does not. The show focuses on the debate about assisted suicide and interviews people who have pursued medically assisted suicide and those who oppose it.
The show raises important questions about end-of-life care, including the choice to pursue medically assisted suicide. While Leith advocates for the right to choose one’s own death, Kruger presses his concerns that legalising assisted suicide could put vulnerable populations, such as individuals with disabilities, at risk.
Baroness Jane Campbell says, “The programme highlighted the pitfalls and dangers of assisted suicide and the well-known arguments in favour, which we welcome. However, we would have liked to have heard more voices of disabled people feature in person. Many can’t get the health and social care support they need to live independent, dignified lives. The voice of those with experience must be at the forefront of the debate as well as those who seek assisted dying.
We saw a country where the criteria for qualification for a medically assisted death expand to those who are not terminally ill. Don’t forget hard cases make bad law. We’d do well to heed one of Danny Kruger’s final points. ‘We won’t be able to write the law in a way that is safe.’ That’s the burning worry for people like us.”
Not Dead Yet UK believes that a change in the law on assisted suicide could lead to unintended consequences.
- Legalising assisted suicide may create a perception that the lives of people with disabilities are less valuable than those without disabilities. If the law permits assisted suicide, it may create a societal message that the lives of people with disabilities are not worth living. This could increase the stigmatisation of people with disabilities, who may feel pressured to end their lives rather than seek support and care.
- Assisted suicide could lead to abuse and coercion. If assisted suicide were legal, it could become a cheaper alternative to providing long-term care for disabled people. This could create a financial incentive for insurance companies or carers to push people with disabilities towards suicide. The risk of abuse and coercion would be particularly high for people who are isolated or dependent on others for care.
- The definition of “terminal illness” may be interpreted too broadly, which would increase the risk of vulnerable people being targeted. In jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal, it has been shown that the definition of terminal illness can be broadly interpreted. This could result in people with disabilities being considered eligible for assisted suicide even if their disability is not terminal. This would put vulnerable people at risk of being pressured to end their lives prematurely.
- Assisted suicide could undermine efforts to improve palliative care. If assisted suicide were legal, resources could be redirected from improving palliative care to providing assisted suicide. This would be a missed opportunity to improve the quality of life for disabled people and other life-limiting conditions.
- If doctors are allowed to participate in assisted suicide, this could change the nature of the doctor-patient relationship. It could create a situation where patients are seen as a burden, and doctors feel they have a duty to provide death as an option. This could create a conflict of interest for doctors, who may be expected to provide both care and death to their patients.
The programme touched on palliative care as an alternative to assisted suicide. NDYUK believes that alongside the provision of high-quality social care, palliative care would provide supportive care and treatment to individuals with life-limiting illnesses or conditions to improve their quality of life and reduce suffering.
Palliative care addresses physical, emotional, and spiritual needs and includes pain management, symptom relief, and psychosocial support. The emphasis is on improving quality of life rather than hastening death. It can also support families and carers who may be experiencing significant stress and emotional strain.
By providing comprehensive support and care, palliative care can help individuals feel more comfortable, improve their quality of life, and give them a sense of meaning and purpose.
Not Dead Yet UK opposes a change in the law on assisted suicide; we believe it could lead to abuse and coercion, a broader interpretation of “terminal illness,” and the stigmatisation of disabled people. Legalising assisted suicide could undermine efforts to improve palliative care and create a conflict of interest for doctors. NDYUK advocates for palliative care and social care as alternatives to assisted suicide, these approaches focus on improving quality of life and provide comprehensive support and care for disabled people and those with life-limiting illnesses or conditions.