“Legislating for ‘assisted dying’ would fundamentally change our approach to suicide in society at large.”
– Professor Allan House
Professor Allan House, emeritus professor of liaison psychiatry
Professor Allan House is a psychiatrist whose specialism is the overlap between mental health and physical illness. He opposes ‘assisted dying’, believing a change in the law would:
- Undermine society-wide efforts to prevent suicide.
- Negatively impact the work of psychiatrists seeking to save lives.
- Expose vulnerable and marginalised people to insolvable risks.
- Compound existing inequalities in healthcare.
Professor House states:
“There is a wider risk to society when you legislate the idea that certain suicides are to be supported – in other words that there are some people whose lives are not worth living who should be helped to end their lives. That’s a more intangible risk, but it feels to me like the greater risk long term.
“As things stand, we have a national suicide prevention strategy, based on the idea that all suicides should be something we work to prevent. If we say ‘now there are some suicides that we actually support and assist’ this will change societal attitudes in profound ways. It seems to me this would reduce the drive to prevent suicide. Instead of assisting suicide in people who think their lives are intolerable, we should be working to stop it being the case that people with severe physical illnesses find their lives intolerable.
“We know from suicide statistics that people at risk very often have little or no social support in their lives. They may suffer from recurrent spells of depression. These kinds of vulnerabilities tend to get neglected in debates. People talk about mental capacity, and the ‘right to choose’, but we need to know more about the social context that drives people to suicidal thinking.
“A better way forward for our society involves more imaginative thinking about how to address the mental health impacts of living with a severe physical illness. We have to understand how social context influences people’s thoughts about their own lives – for example their thoughts about living with a disability. And we have to join up our services. The best services are models of what every service should be.”