19th April 2023: Assisted Dying with Lin Li and Tina Röck
Come along to The Outhouse (12A Broughton Street Lane, Edinburgh, 0131 557 6668) on 19th April at 6pm for a short film about ‘Assisted Dying’ made by Lin Li; along with the film there will be an open discussion about the philosophical issues facilitated by Dr Tina Röck, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, at the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law in the University of Dundee. There is a bar where people can buy drinks and also people are allowed to bring hot food in from the surrounding take-away food shops and restaurants. Everyone is welcome to bring an item of food to put on the table to share…
Title of talk:
Assisted dying; legal and philosophical issues
Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:
Screening of a film that I made in 2019 (The Last Companion, 32 minutes long) which is based on my interview with someone who accompanied a stranger to go to Switzerland to die. The film raises a number of questions, some of which relate to issues about the legalization of assisted dying. After the screening, I shall talk briefly about the legal situation regarding assisted dying in Scotland and put it in the wider global context. Then there will be a plenary discussion on some of the philosophical / ethical issues involved which legislators and individuals making their end of life decisions would have to consider. This discussion will be facilitated by Tina Röck.
A few paragraphs on your subject:
In 2019, I did an interview with someone (Anna being her pseudonym) who had been asked to accompany an English person (Jill) whom she had not met before to go to Switzerland for assisted suicide. I then made a film based on the interview – The Last Companion (https://linli-art.com/thelast companion/). Anna’s account made me wonder whether Jill would have chosen to die later and in the company of her loved ones if assisted dying had been legal in Britain. In England and Wales, assisted suicide is a criminal offence under the Suicide Act 1961. In Scotland, although there is no specific offence of assisting a suicide, such assistance could be considered “culpable homicide” under Scottish law. Unlike the UK, a number of countries in Europe permit assisted death under certain circumstances.
Switzerland is the first country in the world to decriminalize assisted suicide and did so in 1942. Not only Swiss nationals but also foreigners can make use of the service provided by organizations such as Dignitas or lifecircle. Hundreds of British citizens have gone to Switzerland to seek medical help to end their life. This end of life option is however only available to those Britons who have the financial means to travel to Switzerland and pay for the service. Furthermore if a British resident accompanies another person to go to Switzerland to die, they could potentially face prosecution upon returning to the UK. A number of surveys suggest that there is significant public support for legalizing assisted dying in the UK 1, particularly for individuals who are terminally ill and suffering unbearably.
In Scotland, the Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults Bill was proposed by Liam McArthur (Member of Scottish Parliament MSP) in September 2022. After a period of public consultation which elicited majority support for a change in the law, and with the backing of over a quarter of MSPs, a draft bill is expected to be introduced this year to be considered by the Scottish Parliament. The issue of assisted dying is complex and requires careful consideration of many factors by lawmakers as well as individuals who may need to make a choice for themselves or their loved ones. The ethical and philosophical questions concerning assisted death touch on the nature of life, autonomy and choice, and the role of medicine in society.
There is a wide range of views on this matter. It is important to clarify the terminology used when discussing the issue of assisted death because the language used can have significant implications for how people understand what is being discussed and perceive this end of life practice. In my proposed event, we shall look at the terms used by different legislatures and in public discourse (e.g. ‘assisted suicide’, ‘euthanasia’, ‘end of life choices’ etc.) and how campaigners for and against assisted death differ in the terminology they choose to describe such death.
Support for legalization is often based on the argument that individuals have the right to make decisions about their own lives, including the right to choose when and how they die. It is argued that denying individuals this choice is a violation of their autonomy and self-determination. Medically assisted death for dying patients who want to be relieved from their unbearable suffering which cannot be alleviated through other means is considered to be more compassionate, and it would allow such individuals to die with dignity and respect. Supporters have also argued that legalization and regulation could protect vulnerable people who under the current legal prohibition of assisted suicide may seek out unsafe and unregulated options to end their own lives.
On the other hand, opponents of assisted death argue that legalization, instead of protecting vulnerable individuals, could put them at risk, particularly if they have been coerced into choosing assisted death. Although safeguards against coercion could be put in place, legalization could create a slippery slope and cause subtle pressure on individuals who may be seen as a burden on society. It has also been argued that rather than legalizing assisted dying, palliative care services should be improved and expanded to alleviate suffering. Another main argument against assisted dying is that all human life is sacred and that assisted death undermines the value of life. Physician-assisted dying would also violate the Hippocratic Oath that doctors take “to do no harm”. 2
The debate over assisted dying is multifaceted and involves important ethical and philosophical considerations. In the proposed Ragged University event, we shall examine more closely some of the arguments for and against legalization, and also how lawmakers strive to balance the rights of individuals with the need to protect vulnerable populations.
2. In 2021 the British Medical Association (BMA) changed their position from opposition to neutrality regarding the legalization of assisted dying, but a survey of BMA members in 2020 showed that the majority were unwilling to participate in physician-assisted dying. (https://www.bma.org.uk/advice-and support/ethics/end-of-life/physician-assisted-dying/physician-assisted-dying-survey)
A few paragraphs about you:
I live in Edinburgh and use sound and moving image in my creative practice. Before I started making artwork, I had taught and worked as an academic researcher in Social Sciences, and had also worked with people with visual impairment. My creative work includes dozens of short (mostly experimental) films which explore a variety of subjects of personal significance to me such as migration, the temporality and transience of existence, and the concept of ‘peace’.
Since 2012, I have been a member of a private group called ‘Die-a-log’ (vimeo.com/259567257) and we meet regularly to share our views and experience around the issue of death and dying.
What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others?
Kozlova A (2015) ‘Kant and Mill on Physician-Assisted Suicide’. Inquiries Journal Vol. 7 No. 09
Shand J ‘Assisted Voluntary Euthanasia – the main arguments’
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on ‘Voluntary Euthanasia’
Westphal ER, Nowak WS, Krenchinski CV (2019) ‘Of Philosophy, Ethics and Moral about Euthanasia: The Discomfort between Modernity and Postmodernity’. Clin Med Rev Case Rep 6:270. doi. org/10.23937/2378-3656/1410270
What are your weblinks?
Website – www.linli-art.com