Assisted Dying: Philosophical, Legal and Practice Perspectives

In 2013, Death and dying on February 25, 2013 at 9:00 am

On Wednesday 20th February 2013, sponsored by the International Centre for Nursing Ethics, School of Health and Social Care and the School of Law at the University of Surrey, four experts from different disciplines debated issues related to assisted dying. Focusing on the related themes of autonomy and dignity at the end of life each panel member spoke for ten minutes and offered their own perspective on the topic. The presentations were then followed by a lively debate between the panellists after which the floor was opened up to questions from audience members.

Ray Tallis, former Professor of Geriatric medicine and recently described as ‘one of the top living polymaths’ opened the discussion with an entreaty to autonomy. He argued that the wishes of those who are terminally ill and seek an assisted death ought to be respected and that the law should be reformed to permit that. Hazel Biggs, Professor of Health Care Law at the University of Southampton, then outlined some of the legal aspects of the debate. She explained that the law does not explicitly support autonomy or dignity, other than through the legal right to consent to or refuse medical treatment and used various examples of assisted dying to reveal deep inconsistencies in the legal approach to end of life decision-making. Barry Quinn, MacMillan Consultant Lead Nurse at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospital NHS Trust then introduced some practical perspectives, arguing that today death is remote from the living and encouraging everyone in the audience to think about ways in which they might be with the dying so that people at the end of life feel less alone and better cared for. David Albert Jones, Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre and Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford continued the debate on autonomy drawing on philosophical theory to support his argument that in some respects personal autonomy ought properly to be limited.

The animated debate that the individual presentations provoked, demonstrate that assisted dying remains a controversial and emotive topic that is never far from the public consciousness. Such discussions are invaluable in generating informed public opinion.

More information can be found here.

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