Lord Brian Rix, one of Britain’s most beloved stage and TV actors, passed away last month after succumbing to a two-year battle with a terminal disease. In his last years, Lord Rix stirred a lot of public attention with his firm stance on assisted dying; more specifically, how the UK law regulating assisted dying and euthanasia needs to change, and soon.
The Right To “Slip Away Peacefully”
The one thing that immediately stands out about Rix’s passionate campaigning is that he was once firmly opposed to both assisted dying and euthanasia. (Assisted dying only applies to terminally ill, mentally competent adults, and requires the dying patient, after meeting strict legal safeguards, to self administer life-ending medication. Voluntary euthanasia allows a doctor to administer life-ending medication directly to the patient.
A cross-bench member of the House of Lords in 1992, Rix voted against the 2006 Bill which was supposed to allow assisted dying and euthanasia in the UK. At the time, he justified his stance by saying he was worried that people with learning disabilities might become the unwilling victims of euthanasia. (Namely, since his daughter was born with Down’s syndrome, Rix has dedicated himself to advocating for the rights of people with learning disabilities.)
However, after falling ill himself, his viewpoint on the matter changed drastically. Rix’s letter to the Speaker of the House of Lords Baroness D’Souza conveyed the heartfelt plea of a terminally ill man requesting his right for assisted dying:
“My position has changed. As a dying man, who has been dying now for several weeks, I am only too conscious that the laws of this country make it impossible for people like me to be helped on their way, even though the family is supportive of this position and everything that needs to be done has been dealt with.
Unhappily, my body seems to be constructed in such a way that it keeps me alive in great discomfort when all I want is to be allowed to slip into a sleep, peacefully, legally and without any threat to the medical or nursing profession. I am sure there are many others like me who having finished with life wish their life to finish.”
What Next For The UK’s Assisted Dying Law?
At the moment, assisted dying is illegal in UK, but ongoing public campaigns in support of it could be an indication that the legislative framework regulating this controversial topic might soon change. The last formal debate took form in a free vote in the House of Commons on 11 September 2015, when the right to die through medical assistance was rejected by 330 MPs against, as opposed to 118 of those in favour.
Time will tell if the legislation surrounding assisted dying law will change but there is constantly ongoing support from sections of the public and medical community.
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