Terminally ill Suffolk man welcomes parliamentary debate on assisted dying
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
A terminally ill man from Bury St Edmunds says he ‘just wants the choice’ to end his life after a former justice minister raised the issue on assisted dying in a parliamentary meeting.
Barry Barker, 63, has motor neurone disease, a progressive and eventually fatal neurodegenerative disorder for which there is no cure.
He said he has “absolutely considered” travelling to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, which has legally assisted more than 2,000 terminally and chronically ill people end their lives.
Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK under the Suicide Act 1961 - but Mr Barker is campaigning for the law to be changed to allow for people who are suffering to end their lives when they feel the pain is too much.
Supporters of the current law, such as Care Not Killing, believe more and better palliative care should be provided to those with life-limiting illnesses.
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The British Medical Association (BMA) is also opposed to euthanasia, calling for “compassionate and ethical care” for dying patients.
If euthanasia were to be legalised, the BMA would want to see “a clear demarcation” between those doctors prepared to assist and this who would not.
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On Tuesday, former Conservative justice secretary and Lord Chancellor David Gauke addressed a cross-parliamentary meeting, arguing that the blanket ban on assisted dying in the UK is in “urgent need of review”.
Mr Gauke raised the issue with the Ministry of Justice but was unable to launch the initiative before leaving his cabinet position in July 2019.
He said in The Times: “It is for parliament, not government, to determine whether the law on assisted dying should be reformed but government is well placed to gather evidence on whether our laws are working properly and whether we have struck the right balance between protecting the vulnerable and giving our citizens the freedom of choice.”
Mr Barker, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease earlier this year, has previously attempted to raise the issue of assisted dying with his MP Jo Churchill.
He believes the UK should follow the lead of other countries that have made euthanasia for terminally ill people legal, such as New Zealand - where a recent referendum showed 65% of people supported the move.
Mr Barker said: “It’s a terribly difficult thing to have to consider, but I just want the choice.
“I’m absolutely delighted that this issue has come into the public domain.
“This is something that is happening and it’s a case of the country falling in line with what the majority of other people wish for and what other countries are doing.
“If you do want to end your life, I believe people should have the right to do so.
“I just really hope our MPs understand the subject and can make the right sort of laws.”
Ellie Ball, media and campaigns manager at Dignity in Dying, added: “The former Lord Chancellor is right to question whether the current law on assisted dying is fit for purpose.
“The current law is simply not working, and the UK risks being left behind as jurisdictions around the world, most recently New Zealand, enact safe, compassionate assisted dying legislation.
“We urgently need a review of our cruel and outdated laws in this country, not in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, but because of it.”