Henry Marsh, one of the UK’s leading neurosurgeons and a bestselling author, has called for an urgent inquiry into assisted dying after revealing he has advanced prostate cancer.
Marsh is backing a group of more than 50 MPs and peers who have written a joint letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, arguing the UK's laws on assisted dying have fallen behind the rest of the world. Currently, assisting a suicide is a crime in England and Wales and is punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
Signatories of the letter include politicians who previously voted against changing the law.
The letter was organised by Humanists UK, whichMarsh is an advocate of, and campaign group My Death, My Decision, of which he is a patron.
The Guardian reports that Marsh said dying of cancer could be “a very horrible business” but the law “insists I must suffer”. Politicians had “shown a striking lack of compassion by ducking this issue for too long and are inadvertently guilty of great cruelty”, he said.
The Guardian reports that in February, 2021, Spain became the latest European country to approve legislation giving patients with incurable diseases or unbearable conditions the right to choose to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor. Assisted dying for terminally ill people is also allowed in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Canada, New Zealand and several US states have also legalised assisted dying.
The UK parliament last voted on the issue in 2015, rejecting by 330 to 118 a private member’s Bill to allow assisted dying for people with a terminal illness who are likely to die within six months.
Marsh, 71, whose cancer was diagnosed six months ago, said: “Having spent a lifetime operating on people with cancer, the prospect of dying slowly from it myself fills me with dread. Despite the best efforts of palliative medicine, I know that dying from cancer can still be a very horrible business – for both patient and family, despite what the opponents of assisted dying claim.
“I fiercely believe that if people in my situation knew they had the ability to choose how, when and where they would die, it would greatly reduce their suffering. Knowing that I had this choice, if life became unbearable, would certainly give me much greater confidence now in facing whatever the future might hold for me.
“But as the law stands, I am not allowed this comfort, and the law insists instead that I must suffer. Many politicians have shown a striking lack of compassion by ducking this issue for too long, and are inadvertently guilty of great cruelty.”
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