Are there decisions you need to make in advance?

checkmate

The decision made by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) to poll its members on their views on assisted dying was always going to spur at least one or two anti-euthanasia rants – which is a shame because what we need is open debate.

The latest one-sided diatribe is from columnist Dominic Lawson from the Daily Mail whose article makes a number of assumptions that have been discounted by Phil Cheatle, Campaign Policy Director for My Death, My Decision.

The issues Cheatle raises are concerning Lawson’s assumptions regarding: palliative care and assisted dying being the same thing; the idea that a doctor could be forced to carry out euthanasia; people being pressurised into ending their lives.

However, the one issue not picked up by Cheatle is that of consent. In his response to Lawson’s article he states: “there is already an absolute right, without any recourse to scrutiny, for someone to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment” – however this is not always the case.

The NHS’s own information about consent lists six instances where it may not be necessary to obtain consent, including when someone “requires emergency treatment to save their life, but they’re incapacitated (for example, they’re unconscious)”.

This means that, for example, someone who has a life-threatening condition may end up being ventilated and kept alive in a situation that would be against their wishes if only they were able speak for themselves.

I believe this is why each person in the UK should have an “Advance Decision” document, otherwise known as a living will. As the NHS explains, this document allows you “lets your healthcare team know your wishes if you aren’t able to communicate them”.

You can access a free online advance decision form via the My Decisions website, which is provided by the charity Compassion in Dying.

If you want to read a rather more balanced response to the RCP’s decision, please see Christopher de Bellaigue’s article in The Guardian. (Ignore the clickbait headline.) I discuss this article in my post called Does suicide ever make sense?

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