APPG Dying Well

17th June 2021

Professor Katherine Sleeman, Laing Galazka Professor at the Cicely Saunders Institute spoke at an event on 16 June 2021 organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well, attended by parliamentarians and members of the public. Other speakers included pain specialist Dr Ian Wilson, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The APPG on Dying Well opposes a change in the law around assisted dying and euthanasia, and supports instead high-quality palliative care available to everyone.

A recording of the event is available on the APPG website here: https://www.dyingwell.co.uk/watch-secretary-of-state-matt-hancock-at-the-dying-well-appg/

Professor Sleeman said there were “large gaps” in knowledge around the quality of palliative care, particularly patient outcomes.

“The data we rely on are proxies like ‘did people die at home?’ when actually what we really want to know is, ‘did people die at peace?’ “

Professor Sleeman said she was concerned that the societal conversation around assisted dying is being driven by hyperbole and fear, not by evidence and information, and that it is dangerous to frame the issue as a choice between suffering and suicide.

Dr Ian Wilson presented a summary of results of a study by the BMA in 2016 of doctors’ and the public’s views on assisted dying. The results show the complexity of the issue; that people’s views change in response to new information, and that doctor/patient communication, and public understanding are key to informing the debate.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “One of the things that we always have to deal with is conflation of disability, frailty and illness, and that illness and disability are often wrongly used interchangeably.”

She added: “I’ve lost track of the number of people who have asked me have I thought about ending my life, because they have an assumption that my life is so terrible and tragic.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson said that in the debate around assisted dying “we are constantly told there will be safeguards but we have no idea of what they are going to be”.

She continued: “We are asked to pass the law and then work out the safeguards. I just don’t think that is good enough. That is why a huge number of disabled people feel threatened.”