The fundamental human right to dignity.
The right to life should not infer a duty to live.
The law should give effect to one's fundamental rights to:
- Human dignity, not to be treated in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way.
- Bodily and psychological autonomy.
- Request a medical practitioner to end one's life or to enable one to end one's own life by the administration or provision of a lethal agent, if and when one chooses to do so.
How upfront legal safeguards will protect vulnerable people.
Our recommended safeguards are very similar to those of Dignity in Dying, UK (edited below, with thanks), and Oregon, where assisted dying have been legal for almost 20 years, with no recorded or reported breaches.
There are a number of upfront safeguards built into our proposed Bill. The primary safeguard being that any patient who requests assistance to die will need to be strictly assessed by two doctors, each acting independently of the other as well as a psychiatrist.
Both doctors must be satisfied that the patient has:
- A terminal illness (with a prognosis of six months or less to live) or who is suffering intractably from an incurable, debilitating disease.
- Mental capacity to make decisions.
- Full information about their end-of-life care options.
- Ability to make a voluntary and informed decision free from pressure.
There would be a mandatory period of reflection after the medical examinations and before the patient receives the medication. A request for an assisted death could be withdrawn at any time.
Some of the key safeguards contained in the Assisted Dying Bill are:
- Assessments by two independent doctors to establish whether the request is well-informed, persistent & voluntary.
- Assessment by a registered psychiatrist.
- The patient is informed about palliative and supportive care available.
- The patient’s request would be witnessed independently.
- A 14 day period of reflection. This may be reduced to six days if the two doctors agree that the patient’s death is expected to occur within one month.
- Patients could orally revoke the request at any point.
Those not eligible for medical help to die under the Assisted Dying Bill are:
- Elderly people who are not terminally ill.
- People who are not mentally competent, including those with dementia or Alzheimer’s even if they are terminally ill.
- People who are under 18.
The Assisted Dying Bill
Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have laws that allow for assisted deaths. In addition, five states in the US have such laws (Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and California).
In South Africa, the organisation, DignitySA, is seeking a law to allow for legalised assisted deaths under precisely defined criteria: that it is the individuals’ free choice, that they must be of a sane state of mind and terminally ill with a prognosis of less than six months, and that two independent doctors have confirmed that these conditions have been met.
Some doctors are already helping their patients to die. It is generally accepted that this is happening all over the world. These are compassionate doctors who are committing acts of kindness, although under current South African law they are also committing crimes. This is yet another reason for a law change: they shouldn’t have to act outside the law.