Assisted dying

pl-2Paul Lamb, 63, believes the current law, which bans assisted suicide under threat of up to 14 years' imprisonment, is discriminatory and breaches his human rights

Paul Kaufman, Chair of East London Humanists, sets the scene for the grim but important topic of assisted dying, which will be discussed at the group’s meeting this month with guest speaker Keiron McCabe

Keiron McCabe campaigns full time for reform of the law on assisted dying on behalf of Humanists UK. He works alongside pressure groups such as My Death, My Decision.

Keiron is young, energetic and passionate about his role. He cut his campaigning teeth working for the Hilary Clinton campaign in the 2016 US election. So, why choose to be involved in this of all areas of work?

Keiron explains that it is hard to exaggerate how important reform is to the individuals involved, and the positive difference reform would make to them and their peace of mind.

The sense of injustice is compounded by the fact that polls show overwhelming support for a change in the law. The largest such poll was commissioned by Dignity in Dying last year. It showed 84% of respondents support a change. Support is consistently strong across age, gender and class, and there is even stronger support among people who stated they had a disability. There is broad support for assisted dying across most faith groups, including more than 82% support amongst Christian respondents.

So, why is popular opinion, and the wish of the individuals concerned, being thwarted? The resistance to change is largely spearheaded by religious diehards, not least unelected bishops in the House of Lords. Objections are often rooted in a belief in an overriding ‘divine will.’

One individual affected is Paul Lamb. Keiron has worked closely with Paul in support of his recent high-profile High Court challenge. He was paralysed from the neck down following an accident 30 years ago. Paul enjoys the love and support of family and friends and enjoys a quality of life which he feels currently makes life worth living. But Paul is in constant and growing pain. His condition is incurable. He dreads life becoming intolerable and lacking the power to choose the time and place of his death. He has no religious belief or belief in a divine will. His wish is carefully thought through and rational. He simply wants the reassurance of knowing he will be able to die in his own home, surrounded by those he loves, at a time of his choosing.

Many progressive jurisdictions have passed reforms which would allow Paul’s wish to be granted. Fears of abuse and the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument have proved groundless. For example, Portland, Oregon, where the law was changed in 1997, has exceptionally good hospice provision and palliative care. But now the terminally ill in Portland are able to make an informed choice.

Keiron’s talk will take place at Wanstead Library on 24 February from 7.30pm (free; visitors welcome). Visit wnstd.com/elh