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Assisted dying: 36 people have left east of England to die in Switzerland

PUBLISHED: 06:30 11 September 2015 | UPDATED: 14:37 11 September 2015

MPs are set to debate assisted dying. Photo: Tim Irelan

MPs are set to debate assisted dying. Photo: Tim Irelan

Archant

Thirty six people from the east of England have travelled to Switzerland to end their life, the EDP today reveals.

In total more than 270 patients have left England to have an assisted death in the country, but foreign travel may not be necessary much longer if Parliament approves a hotly contested bill.

Today MPs will debate a Private Members Bill proposed by Labour’s Wolverhampton South West MP Rob Marris, who wants to make assisted dying legal in the UK.

The discussion takes place on the day we reveal 36 people from the east of England have travelled to Switzerland-based company Dignitas to end their life since the early 2000s.

It makes our region the third-highest in England and Wales for people using Dignitas, by percentage of population. Mr Marris’ bill proposes to allow “competent adults” who are terminally ill and expected to die within six months to have the right to be helped to end their life.

For and against: MPs’ differing views on bill

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis (Labour) said he would vote in favour of the bill and believes it doesn’t go far enough.

Mr Lewis, who describes himself as a humanist and atheist, said: “It’s something I have thought long and hard about.

“At the moment people who are terminally ill live in fear that their life will end with them gasping for breath, choking, or dying painfully.

“We’re asking people to fudge their way through that process which is not good enough.

“I understand the arguments about slippery slopes but I think as human beings we have the right, with consistent safeguards, to decide, under conditions, when we can end our lives.”

He said the bill should go further and include people living in “agony” or “living in hell” due to a condition, even if it wasn’t categorised as a terminal illness.

“This is a moral issue,” Mr Lewis said.

“A lot of people who oppose the bill are coming from a religious background. I don’t share their religion.”

Keith Simpson, MP for Mid Norfolk (Conservative), told the EDP he “could not support the Bill”.

“I have deep reservations it,” he said.

“I have every sympathy for those individuals who are terminally ill and their families, but the problem is God has given us life and I’m reluctant to see an organised bureaucratic way of taking it away.

“Despite the best efforts of the proponents of this Bill some elderly people could be pressured to end their lives unnecessarily.

“I don’t think anyone should have the right to end their own life under UK law.”

He said most of his constituents who contacted him on the issue were against the bill, but he had also had some write in favour.

“But this is a free vote, it’s not party-political, and I have made it clear from the start that I am against it,” Mr Simpson said.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith (Conservative) is in favour of the bill.

She said: “The current law is unclear on how they may be helped to die in accordance with their own wishes.

“People are forced to take often hidden, undignified, and desperate action.

“I believe in a person’s right to determine their own life and the manner of ending their life.

“It’s a sovereign principle.

“We can all agree that life is precious. But we each own our lives; no one else defines the value of our lives for us. This concept is already deep in the NHS, which generally aims to provide ‘patient-centred care’ and talks of ‘no decision about me without me’.”

Jo Cartwright, of Norwich, who worked for seven years with campaign group Dignity in Death, said: “If passed, the bill would provide a safety net for people who are worried about how they will die.

“I think only a handful of people would actually choose to an assisted death, but it’s having that safety net for people so they know if they get worse then they have that option.

“Doctors should have a right not to take part, but I think many want to do something for patients who want more choice.”

But Father David Paul, Dean of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Norwich, said: “Life is sacred. It’s a gift from God and it’s not for us to have the power to take life away from others.

“Elderly people may either be – or feel – pressured into choosing assisted death.

“For example there may be an unscrupulous family member wanting their inheritance.” He said he believes more energy should be focused on end-of-life care.

What do you think? You can leave your comments below.

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