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Breathing life into the dying debate

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Published on 22 March 2018

Should assisted dying be allowed?
Should assisted dying be allowed?

 “We should not as a society sanction the destruction of the lives of others”.

 That is the view of a University of Sunderland academic ahead of a landmark decision that could see Guernsey become the first place in Britain to allow assisted dying.

 Dr Kevin Yuill is an atheist and also one of the most prominent voices against legalised assisted suicide in the UK.

 He was speaking as proposals, expected to be voted on next May, could see people who are terminally ill, mentally competent, and have less than six months to live, end their lives with the help of a doctor.

 The move could open the door for people from mainland UK who want to die, and meet the criteria, to travel to the island and take advantage of the new law.

 But, Dr Yuill warns strongly that the consequences of such a decision are significant.


He said: “No one is saying that doctors should not occasionally take action to end a patient’s suffering in the last hours, days or even weeks of life; it is that we should not, as a society, sanction the destruction of the lives of others.

 “I oppose legalised assisted suicide for the same reason I oppose capital punishment; it is wrong to take a life simply because it is wretched.”

 “Once you legalise assisted suicide by doctor, it becomes a medical treatment. And can we please call someone purposefully ingesting poison suicide rather than the euphemistic “assisted dying”?

 “Then you are left justifying why more and more people who are suffering should not have this treatment. And how can you deny medical treatment to anyone – including children – and call yourself humane?

 “Even in Oregon, USA, legislators are pushing for expansion of assisted suicide to those suffering from degenerative diseases. And why not, given they have the prospect of suffering longer than those with six months or less left to live?

 “The truth is that no line that can be drawn has any moral or ethical basis. If we allow assisted suicide for some, we are really not that far away from the situation in the Netherlands, where 29-year-old Aurelia Brouwers, who suffered from severe mental but no physical disease, drank poison under the supervision of a doctor.

 “Or Belgium, where 124 people were put to death in 2014-15 because they were suffering from mental illness or dementia.

 “Nor is this about pain, which does not figure in the top 5 reasons why people opt for assisted suicides where they are legal.”


If Guernsey’s Parliament passes the bill, it will be subject to an 18-month consultation period.

 In its position as a British crown dependency, Guernsey is able to set its own laws, but these then have to be approved by a privy council, a body of senior Westminster politicians.

 Dignity in Dying, a campaign that wants to see a change in the law, claims around 44 British people travel each year to Dignitas, a Swiss euthanasia clinic.

 The Guernsey proposal is based on the ‘Oregon model’ which states people must have a terminal illness before they can be considered. This has so far been adopted in six US states, as well as Canada.

 Dr Kevin Yuill teaches American studies at the University of Sunderland. His book, Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalisation, is published by Palgrave Macmillan.