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Rising rates of assisted suicide could be reduced by spending more on end-of-life care: argues LSBU expert

21 August 2014
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As a report reveals the number of 'suicide tourists' doubled in four years, LSBU expert in pain management has argued for better palliative care services rather than a change in the law

The number of people going abroad to take their own lives has doubled within the space of four years, according to a study published online today by the Journal of Medical Ethics. The report revealed that 611 people who were not resident in Switzerland had been helped to die between 2008 and 2012 - with UK and German nationals making up almost two thirds of the total.

Dr Alison Twycross of London South Bank University's School of Health and Social Care has spent more than two decades researching pain management practices.

Writing in the journal Evidence Based Nursing today, Dr Twycross argues: "Many advocates for assisted suicide believe it is needed because of a friend or relative who experienced a protracted or painful death. So the issue may be a need to provide good end-of-life (palliative) care to all rather than to change the law.

"However, providing quality palliative care is not cheap and so may be seen not to be a realistic option in an age of austerity when the health service needs to make cost savings year on year".

Dr Twycross adds that some people argue that good palliative care will not stop people asking for assisted suicide and that there will also be some terminally ill people who want to hasten their death. But there is some evidence that the reason for seeking to hasten death is often associated with a long-standing personal belief rather than issues with pain and symptom management.

"Advocates of assisted suicide claim that with appropriate safeguards the risks are minimised. However, a recent review suggests that safeguards are often ignored. Autonomy is important; but it could be that, in matters of life and death, you cannot create freedom for the few without taking away adequate safeguards for the many." Dr Twycross concludes.

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