TRANSCRIPT: RightsUp Pop: Trevor Moore on Assisted Dying
Rishika Sahgal (0:09)
Today we will talk about the issue of assisted dying with Trevor Moore, the Chair of “My Death, My Decision”. This is a grassroots movement for assisted dying reform, advocating for a compassionate law on assisted dying that permits a medically-assisted death to adults of sound mind who are terminally-ill or intolerably suffering.
Rishika Sahgal (0:45)
Thank you very much for speaking with us today, Trevor.
Trevor Moore (0:48)
Rishika Sahgal (0:50)
So, to begin with, could you tell us what is “assisted dying” and why is this a human rights issue?
Trevor Moore (0:56)
Well, assisted dying is actually a generic term that can be applied to someone being helped to die, either by being given medication to take themselves or from a medical practitioner administering a lethal injection, which is what’s permitted in, for example, Canada and New Zealand. It’s a human rights issue because, just as we have the autonomy to make decisions about our daily life — which might mean, you know, I choose to smoke or I refuse to have chemotherapy anymore for my condition — so also we should be able to choose how, when and where we die. And at its most stark, you can have people like Tony Nicklinson, who had locked-in syndrome, who didn’t actually end his own life because he was physically incapable. So, people like Tony were championing the cause for a law that would allow other people to help him to die.
Rishika Sahgal (1:59)
And— so, what I’m intrigued about is people who choose to die because they are suffering and very ill. So, would you think there’s also a dimension of a right against ill-treatment? Maybe not torture, but at least, inhuman [and] degrading treatment?
Trevor Moore (2:21)
I think that’s a good point. It’s not one I’ve heard before. But if some of your listeners will remember Tony Nicklinson, he could only communicate by eye movement, everything else had to be done for him and he saw it as perpetuating his suffering. And yes, the—his personal dignity as well. So, I do think that by protracting this suffering and not permitting people to die, we are actually being inhumane.
Rishika Sahgal (2:56)
Could you tell us what is the law on assisted dying currently in the UK?
Trevor Moore (3:01)
Well, the law is actually a complete mess. It’s a criminal offence to assist someone to end their own life. And so what has happened is that we’ve effectively exported assisted dying for those people who can afford to travel to Switzerland, where they don’t have a residency requirement, and they permit assisted dying. In the UK, if you accompany someone to Switzerland to have— to end their life, you could be prosecuted and given a prison sentence of up to 14 years. That’s extremely unlikely to happen, but nevertheless, that’s an awful cloud to hang over someone who’s just trying to help their nearest and dearest to achieve the end of life that they want.
Rishika Sahgal (3:51)
So, you mentioned the law, and specifically, it’s section 2 of the Suicide Act, isn’t it?
Trevor Moore (3:57)
Yes, that’s right.
Rishika Sahgal (3:58)
And has this been challenged before courts, especially on human rights grounds?
Trevor Moore (4:04)
Well, yes. I mentioned Tony Nicklinson earlier, and when Tony died in around 2013 the baton, if you like, was passed to a man called Paul Lamb, and he took up Tony’s challenge, which was rejected by the Supreme Court. Effectively, they were trying to get a declaration that Parliament should permit assisted dying because it— their human rights under the Human Rights Act were being breached. There was— there was a contradiction between section 2 [of the Suicide Act] and, as I think it was, Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. And, unfortunately, all challenges have been unsuccessful, up to and including Paul Lamb’s attempt to get leave to appeal against a refusal back in 2020, I think it was. And so the courts have really batted the ball back to Parliament, and all of these cases have failed, unfortunately.
Rishika Sahgal (5:09)
So, has Parliament picked up that baton? What are the latest developments before Parliament?
Trevor Moore (5:17)
Well, if only parliament and politicians would pick up the baton, but unfortunately the most recent attempt to have a law was the Assisted Dying Bill introduced by Baroness Meacher in the House of Lords, which has just failed, because it was a private member’s bill and it’s not being carried forward. So, as far as my organisation, “My Death, My Decision” is concerned, what we really need is a parliamentary inquiry into assisted dying, because [the] private member’s bill process isn’t an adequate way for this to be brought forward, and there doesn’t seem to be any political will to introduce it as potential primary legislation.
Rishika Sahgal (6:02)
Thank you. And I was also wondering about the Director of Public Prosecution’s Regulations when choosing to prosecute under the Suicide Act. Could you tell us a little more about that?
Trevor Moore (6:17)
Yes, well, those guidelines came out of a case brought by Debbie Purdy, a very brave woman who had multiple sclerosis. And she said that the Suicide Act wasn’t clear about the extent to which her husband, if he accompanied her to Switzerland or otherwise helped her to die, in what circumstances he would be prosecuted. So, the then-DPP, who happened to be Kier Starmer at the time, issued this guidance, which has a number of grounds which mitigate against a prosecution being in the public interest. And those include, for example, clearly acting out of compassion, not gaining personally, it being clear that the person had consistently said they wanted to end their life, and so on.
Trevor Moore (7:13)
But it shouldn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be the question of an offence being committed and then looking at mitigation on prosecution. We shouldn’t be committing an offence in the first place because assisted dying should be permitted. Of course, with appropriate protocols, as we’ve seen in many other countries around the world that allow assisted dying. And after all, all the opinion polls show that somewhere between 80 and 90% of the public support an assisted dying law.
Rishika Sahgal (7:42)
Thank you. And maybe just to end with— let’s talk about terminology. So, you use the term “assisted dying” and I wondered why you choose these terms? And the other terms that I see— I hear frequently are “assisted suicide” and “euthanasia”. So, could you tell us why you prefer assisted dying as the terminology?
Trevor Moore (8:05)
Yes, so opponents of people being helped to die often refer to euthanasia — I think because of the unfortunate history it has, opponents refer back to Nazi Germany, for example. Technically, euthanasia is when a third party actually takes the act that kills the person, whereas under many assisted dying laws, such as in Oregon, in the [United] States, where many states permit assisted dying, the person applying has to take the medication themselves. So, assisted dying is really a generic term that would cover both where the person takes the medication themselves and where they receive a lethal injection. But I think that calling it euthanasia is obviously an agenda that wants to be driven by opponents.
Trevor Moore (9:03)
It’s worth knowing that in Canada, where they’ve had a law since 2016, in the last review that was done, they do an annual review, only a handful of people, something like seven people, asked to take the medication themselves and the near 8,000 other people asked for a lethal injection. So, in looking for an assisted dying law for the UK, I think that should definitely be an option.
Rishika Sahgal (9:32)
Thank you very much. This has been a fascinating discussion, and I’m sure our listeners have learned a lot.
Trevor Moore (9:38)
Thank you for inviting me.
 “What we stand for”, My Death, My Decision, https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/.
 See, e.g., Sarah Boseley, “Tony Nicklinson dies six days after losing ‘right to die’ case” The Guardian (22 August 2012), https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/aug/22/tony-nicklinson-right-to-die-case.
 Suicide Act 1961, section 2. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Eliz2/9-10/60/section/2.
 R (on the application of Nicklinson and another) v Ministry of Justice; R (on the application of AM) v The Director of Public Prosecutions  UKSC 38. https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2013-0235.html.
 Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights concerns the “Right to respect for private and family life”. It provides: “1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. 2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”
 “Court of Appeal refuses Paul Lamb the opportunity to challenge the law on assisted dying”, My Death, My Decision (25 November 2020), https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/2020/11/25/court-of-appeal-refuses-paul-lamb-the-opportunity-to-challenge-the-law-on-assisted-dying/. See also “Paul Lamb’s assisted dying case refused permission by Court of Appeal”, Politics (25 November 2020), https://www.politics.co.uk/opinion-former/press-release/2020/11/25/paul-lambs-assisted-dying-case-refused-permission-by-court-of-appeal/.
 “Assisted Dying Bill [HL]”, UK Parliament (Parliamentary Bills), https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2875.
 R (on the application of Purdy) v Director of Public Prosecutions  UKHL 45.
http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKHL/2009/45.html. See also “The Legacy of Debbie Purdy – Radio 4 programme” My Death, My Decision, https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/2019/03/03/the-legacy-of-debbie-purdy-radio-4-programme/.
 Director of Public Prosecutions, “Suicide: Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases Encouraging Assisting Suicide”, CPS (February 2010, updated October 2014), https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/suicide-policy-prosecutors-respect-cases-encouraging-or-assisting-suicide#:~:text=This%20offence%20is%20referred%20to,penalty%20of%2014%20years’%20imprisonment.
 Ryan Patrick Jones, “Here’s the latest on the review of Canada’s assisted dying law” CBC (16 May 2021), https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/mature-minors-advance-requests-mental-illness-maid-assisted-death-1.6021717.