Choosing to die
10 Oct 2013
Pupils discussed the law on assisted dying today with Professor Philip Graham, Vice Chair of the campaigning organisation ‘Dignity in Death’.
Professor Graham, a former consultant psychiatrist at Great Ormond Street Hospital and an Old Persean, was invited by the School’s ‘42’ society for a lunchtime lecture. More than 70 pupils and staff gathered to hear him outline the case for a change in the law to allow assisted dying for the terminally ill.
Students were asked to consider a complex case involving a man with terminal cancer, suffering despite superb palliative care, who asks his GP to provide him with the means to take his own life. This emotive scenario and the resulting discussion set the scene for a fascinating lecture on the law as it currently stands in the UK, elsewhere in Europe and in the three US states where assisted dying is permitted; the difference between assisted death at one end of spectrum and euthanasia at the other; and reasons for and against the suggested policy.
Professor Graham explained: “Around 75% of the general population is in favour of assisted dying. Just under half of medical professionals are in favour, with those closest to palliative care least in favour. It is true that the closer medical professionals are to the situation the less they like the idea. But it is also true that the closer people are to personally experiencing the suffering, the more they support it”.
Students were sensitive to the issues and relished the opportunity to put probing questions to the professor. Their considerations included whether the help should be available on the NHS, whether the law would be extended to disabled people, the extent to which the family should be consulted, what to do in Alzheimer’s cases, whether the age of the patient should be a factor, and the distinction between withholding treatment and actively ending life.
The medical theme continues next week with a ‘42’ lecture by Dr Jem Rashbass on ‘Blood, pus and stones’ – a graphic way to mark National Biology Week.