A terminally ill man who plans to travel to Switzerland to end his life before the year is out says legislators have so far “failed” people on assisted dying laws.
David Peace, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 2019, can no longer speak or swallow, receives nutrition through a tube into his stomach, and fears choking to death every day.
The 73-year-old, from Westminster, said he is not suicidal but is reluctantly choosing to end his life prematurely so he is spared “intolerable” suffering in future.
The current law means he needs to travel abroad before his disease progresses to the extent that he cannot manage the journey or administer the medication.
He hopes to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland in the next two months.
Mr Peace, who communicates by text to voice software on his iPad, was interviewed by email and his account was shared with the PA news agency.
He said: “Reluctantly I’m being propelled to bring forward my death by the relentless attacks on my body, with no hope of relief or cure, and no legal or dignified remedy in Britain other than continual suffering with more and more pills, opiates and sedation, tubes into the throat and other intervention.”
He added: “If the law in the UK were different my life would be longer and my end of life would not entail the hassle and difficulty of international travel at the most vulnerable point in my life.”
Assisted suicide is currently banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
A private member’s Bill, which would allow terminally ill adults to legally seek assistance to end their lives, will have its second reading in Parliament next week.
If passed, the Bill would enable adults who are of sound mind and have six months or less to live to be provided with life-ending medication with the approval of two doctors and a High Court judge.
A public consultation on a similar Bill was launched in Scotland last month.
MPs voted against an assisted dying Bill in 2015, with 330 against and 118 for the proposals.
Those who oppose a law change say it would place pressure on people to end their lives and that the current laws protect the vulnerable.
Mr Peace said the legislation is needed to “rectify the dire lack of choice and control” for people with terminal illnesses, and it would offer them “a true choice, not an obligation, with proper safeguards to protect against coercion or depression”.
A change in the law is “long overdue”, he said, adding: “Our legislators have failed us thus far.”
It comes as polling for the charity Dignity in Dying suggests 74% of British people want Parliament to back the Bill.
Seventy per cent want to see assisted dying legalised by the next general election, according to the YouGov survey of 1,733 adults on October 7 and 8.
Half (52%) of respondents said they have witnessed the suffering of a terminally ill loved one.
Just 9% of those surveyed said parliamentarians should vote against the Bill.
Mr Peace said it is “heartening, but not surprising” to see such strength of public support.
Those objecting on religious grounds “must not impose their beliefs on others”, he said, while those morally opposed “must search their consciences”.
He added: “Who would not like to have a choice?”
Baroness Meacher, who introduced the Bill, told PA she is feeling “very optimistic” about its second reading of the Bill, which will “transform people’s lives” if passed.
The current situation is “incredibly unsafe and leads to incredible pain”, she said, with some terminally ill people starving themselves to death and “withering away”.
She said: “Anyone with motor neurone disease, my heart goes out to them, to be honest, they should have an assisted death at home, surrounded by their families, in this country.
“They should not have to go through the gruelling process, when they’re already having very limited capacity to move and so on, travelling all the way to Switzerland, dying in a foreign country, and their relatives then coming back on their own. The whole thing is just inhuman.”
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “Mounting evidence has shown that the UK’s blanket ban on assisted dying is not working and this poll clearly shows that the public understands the case for reform.
“The status quo does not provide sufficient choice or protection for our terminally ill citizens, puts loved ones in impossible positions, prevents healthcare professionals from providing all the end-of-life options their patients want, and forces the police to spend time and resource on cases which are clearly motivated by compassion and are rarely, if ever, prosecuted.”
Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, said polling shows there has been a drop in support for legalising assisted suicide in recent years.
He said there is evidence from other countries that people are ending their lives because they fear being a burden, have financial worries or feel lonely, and concerns that safeguards could be eroded.
Dr Macdonald continued: “It is disappointing at a time when we have seen widespread discrimination against the elderly and disabled people that a small number of campaigners and some politicians continue to press for assisted suicide, obscuring the wider debate about how we care for the most vulnerable in society and how we improve access to palliative care, whilst even mentioning the savings which can be made by helping people to kill themselves and that doctors could sign off deaths via video consultations.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Our sympathies remain with the families and loved ones affected by these deeply upsetting cases.
“Any change to the law in an area of such sensitivity and importance must be for individual MPs to consider rather than a decision for Government.”
– The Samaritans can be contacted on 116123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org