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The Quality of Mercy

Thursday, August 20, 1970

On 9th September VES UK published ‘The Quality of Mercy’, a comprehensive review of existing research on assisted dying and physical illness in the UK. ‘The Quality of Mercy’ demonstrates that the UK law has forced assisted dying underground, with the result that vulnerable people are not protected.

The report reveals for the first time Home Office statistics which indicate that nearly 30% of people who assist a friend or relative’s death subsequently end their own life. Many of those who assist in the death of a terminally ill relative experience guilt, which can lead to self-mutilation, psychological problems, and drug dependency.

The report outlines issues such as the lack of communication between patients and doctors about end of life decision-making, and options that are available to patients (for example, palliative care). The report estimates there are 18030 cases of ‘non-voluntary euthanasia’ each year in Britain, whereby doctors end patients’ lives without an explicit request from the patient. It notes that, whilst UK law does not make provision for assisted dying, the crimes of mercy killing and aiding and abetting a suicide have not attracted the penalties set out in law. The decision to prosecute mercy killings as manslaughter rather than murder, or to often not prosecute at all, suggests a tacit recognition that in some circumstances assisted dying is a humane option.

At the launch of ‘The Quality of Mercy’, VES Chief Executive Deborah Annetts said:
"'The Quality of Mercy' shows Government research into what happens at the end of life is needed urgently, to inform parliamentary debate on assisted dying. Because there is a growing disparity between what the law says and how it is applied, doctors and relatives who help terminally ill people end their lives currently face a prosecution lottery. The law is letting down people with terminal illnesses and their carers."

‘The Quality of Mercy’ was written by Lisa Hull, VES UK’s former Research and Policy Officer.

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