If the choice of how we die is a fundamental right, why should it be limited to only those that are ‘terminally ill’ or facing ‘incurable suffering’, asks John Keown

Those calling for the legalisation of so-called “assisted dying” (Letters, 30 July) assert that the right to choose how we die is a fundamental human right, and that those who are “terminally ill” or facing “incurable suffering” should have the option of access to it. However, if that choice is a fundamental right, why should it be limited to those two groups of people? And, if it is so limited, the limits are elastic, embracing not only those near death but many others, such as those with chronic illnesses, both physical and mental; those with disabilities, and the frail and lonely elderly. And why should a “dignified death” be denied to those who are suffering but who are not competent to request it?

It is claimed that (unspecified) “new evidence” from those few countries that have relaxed their laws shows that “robust safeguards” are feasible, but the evidence (examined in my book Euthanasia, Ethics and Public Policy) shows nothing of the sort. Indeed, that evidence confirms the wisdom of the repeated and considered refusal by parliament (and the courts) to change the law.
Professor John Keown
Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University, Washington DC

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