Making the Case for the Right to Die
A strong conviction that end-of-life decisions should respect individual choice
While humanists highly value the right to life, they do not believe that life was created or granted by a god or any supernatural entity. Humanists defend the right of each individual to live by his/her own values and the freedom to make decisions about his/her own life as long as this does not harm others. Such right includes the right to autonomy which allows each individual to make his/her own judgment about whether their life should be prolonged in the face of pointless suffering with no hope for cure or improvement.
So far, few countries in Europe have passed laws on the right to die in dignity. The absence of a legal framework leaves room for uncertainty and raises fears of prosecution. In practice, many people across Europe are helped to die by doctors or nurses without the safeguards that proper legislation would bring. Compassionate doctors, who follow the wishes of their terminally ill or incurably suffering patients by assisting them to die, risk being charged with assisting suicide or even murder. This has led to dramatic cases and fierce public debates in several European countries including France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Humanists recognize the risk of abuse in such a sensitive matter and therefore the need for legal safeguards. In Europe, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland have already introduced legislation that supports a right to assistance to die. Experience in these countries shows that introducing such legislations did not lead to abuses but, quite to the contrary, was a relief for patients, their families and doctors. After the Netherlands, Belgium has even extended, under strict conditions, the right to die with dignity to children.
The EHF seeks to support individuals and organizations by providing information about existing schemes and links to the Right to Die movement, including the World Federation of Right to Die Societies. It is happy to connect people, including doctors, to share information about campaigns and strategies used by humanist and other organizations. The EHF and its member organizations also regularly raise the issue in international fora.
The EHF believes that there can be diversity about what assistance and what methods may be provided to people receiving help to die. All such schemes should be regulated by the State. Voluntary euthanasia and assisted dying should be a part of a comprehensive approach to support individuals facing inevitable death. Palliative care should also be available when it is the person’s choice. Choosing how and when to die is perhaps the ultimate individual freedom. Real compassion is to allow people to make one of the most important decision in their life – how to end it with dignity.