Disabled activists have attacked the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) for hosting a conference on “choice at the end of life” that was little more than a “love fest for euthanasia”.
RSM said before the event that the conference would “question whether or not assisted dying is complementary or contradictory to the notion of person-centred care”.
But speakers in favour of legalising assisted suicide far outnumbered those who opposed a change in the law.
One of those behind the conference, Professor Roger Kirby, who chairs RSM’s academic board, told the audience that the idea for organising it came to him after reading an article written by the husband of a terminally-ill woman who travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to take her own life.
The other senior medical figure who helped organise the event, he said, was Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), whose terminally-ill husband, Professor Paul Cosford, told the conference that he was in favour of a change in the law.
Professor Cosford, who has incurable cancer, and is patient and medical director for Public Health England, suggested that having choice at the end of life should include the option of an assisted suicide.
He told the conference: “I cannot predict how I will die but I can focus on living well now if I know that I would have some kind of control at the time if I need it.”
He added: “To enable choice at the end of life, taking account of individual care needs, may well need a change in approach.
“I do think that might include [the option of] assisted dying.”
He was followed by two further speakers who were in favour of legalisation: Tony Wicks, whose wife ended her life at Dignitas; and Julie Smith, whose husband had been prevented from travelling to Switzerland to end his life at the clinic.
The first three speakers were all supportive of legalising assisted suicide, while the fourth, an assistant coroner, expressed no opinion.
The next speaker was Dr Catherine Sonquist Forest, a strong advocate of legalisation, who takes part in the practice of assisted suicide in California – where it is called “medical aid-in-dying” – where it was legalised in June 2016.
The conference did not hear from an opponent of legalisation until the sixth speaker, Juliet Marlow, from Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), who had only been added to the list of speakers after NDY UK raised concerns at not being invited to speak at the event.
She told the conference that legalised assisted suicide would “negatively affect the relationship between disabled people and society”, and she warned of the risk of people being “slowly” coerced into agreeing to an assisted suicide.
She said there was not one user-led disabled people’s organisation that supported legalising assisted suicide.