Assisted dying should be a right – not a crime | Letters

The most important decision we all have to make in life, to die without having suffering and mental torment forced on us by politicians or religious zealots, is again threatened. Polly Toynbee’s article is excellent (Today, 17 people will likely die in unimaginable pain. Here’s how you can help stop that, 19 January).

I spent the whole of my 50-year career in nursing, the first 20 years in the UK. In my career as a critical care/intensive care nurse, I often cared for individuals who could not live free from pain and suffering, often requiring an artificial ventilator or pharmacological support in order to survive even for a short period of time.

The fear of the patients was palpable; the suffering of their loved ones immense. I also cared for two brothers who suffered long, prolonged dying due to ever increasing respiratory failure. The fear in their eyes is indelibly printed on my heart and my memory of them. One of them begged me to give him a handful of his morphine pills. Although I lovingly joined my family in caring for him for months, I couldn’t give him the peace he needed at the end of his life without fear of the legal ramifications.

The stories of UK citizens going to Switzerland months early to get end-of-life support while the journey is still possible is devastating in so many ways. The right to end one’s suffering should not be a political or religious decision, but a decision made by individuals, with their physicians and loved ones. No one else. Hopefully, by the time my life journey nears it end, I will have the autonomy, with the support of my family, to go peacefully.
Barbara Bell
San Antonio, Texas, US

We care for our elderly relatives. We bear witness to their grimly inevitable decline. Yet they are “kept going”, whatever their health, whatever the personal cost and whatever their own wishes are. The “sanctity of life” must be preserved no matter what the circumstances – even when that life no longer holds any meaning or joy.

Of course, I hope I can enjoy a long and healthy retirement, but I have seen my possible future and I don’t want that. I don’t want the suffering, the immobility, the pointlessness of it all. I would prefer an end that is of my choosing. One that has dignity and enables my family to remember me – to grieve and celebrate from a position of respect for my life and my contribution to their own lives.

I would prefer a “good death”, where I can die with dignity and on my terms. We need the appropriate legal, social and healthcare frameworks in place to enable people like me to end our lives when we feel it is the right time.
Nick Anderson
Purton, Wiltshire

Polly Toynbee makes the case for assisted dying and assisted suicide to be made legal, citing the statistic that, on average, 17 people a day in the UK die an agonising death, when even the best palliative care doesn’t help. My heart goes out to the families who have to watch their loved one go through this.

Having said that, we must accept that the alternative is far worse. Half a million elderly people are care home residents in the UK, and millions more are in the community, often supported by struggling family members. A change in the law will inevitably lead to far larger numbers of assisted suicides, not due to chronic end-of-life pain but due to the guilt of being a burden or watching inheritances deplete through the exorbitant cost of care. There’s also the clear danger of elderly people being pressured by greedy family members. These unwanted consequences are unavoidable.

A survey has found that 84% of Britons support assisted suicide, but how many think beyond the simple question and consider the ramifications?
Nozmul Hussain


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