The coronavirus pandemic has made society’s relationship with death and dying everybody’s business. We have had to confront new challenges around the way we care for dying people, yet the old problems have not gone away.
In February 2018, Dennis Eccleston, suffering in agony from terminal cancer, took an overdose of pain medication to end his own life, helped by his wife Mavis. Mavis was charged with murder. The turmoil that followed sheds light on the brutal impact of the UK’s failure to legalise assisted dying.
Sarah Wootton and Lloyd Riley of the campaign group Dignity in Dying argue that our laws and culture governing death and dying need radical reform and present a vision of what dying in the twenty-first century should look like.
From votes for women to equal marriage, campaigners have had to fight for rights that now seem sacrosanct. As the pandemic now forces us to re-examine how we die, Wootton and Riley show how choice at the end of life is a right whose time has come.
Bringing to light the heart-breaking testimony of those who have witnessed unimaginable suffering at the end of life and exposing the hypocrisy of the arguments put forward to oppose progress, Last Rights questions how future generations will judge us if we fail to take action and issues a call to arms for people to unlock their power and demand change.
“In this deeply troubling time, we are united in working to protect our loved ones, our neighbours, our friends and ourselves. And, where required, to reduce suffering, pain and fear. This little book has the same objective and I highly recommend it. I have been a supporter of Dignity in Dying for a good few years. Its policies are ones of compassion, safety and care. Please read Last Rights."Patrick Stewart
“There exists physical pain beyond the reach of morphine. Terminally ill patients of sound mind but suffering unbearable agony should be empowered to choose, legally and peacefully, the moment of their death. The religious convictions or paternalistic instincts of doctors are irrelevant. So argues this wise and beautifully poised book. It makes its powerful case for assisted dying with compassion, decency and moral depth."Ian McEwan
“If you think you know what you think about assisted dying, pause for a moment. Read this urgent, cogent, necessary book – and then think again."Julian Barnes
“Last Rights provides the blueprint for a new approach to death and dying, and all should read it. Not to allow citizens to choose how and when they die seems to me criminal. The current law is confusing, heartless and causes unnecessary pain, suffering and expense. We need the public to make their views known, and we need the government to act.”Prue Leith
“Last Rights is a humane, sensible argument for changing the law on assisted dying, a moral issue whose time has come. All parliamentarians should consider the points raised in this book and question why we have abrogated our responsibility to change the law for so long.”The Right Honourable Baroness Betty Boothroyd OM
“If we care about the way we live we should also care about the way we die, yet we run away from the issue. We need to talk about it, and to decide. This book harnesses both passion and insight to pursue a very important cause.Michael Dobbs, author of House of Cards
“This deeply humane book presents a brilliant, impassioned, carefully argued and indeed unanswerable case for the long-overdue legalisation of assisted dying. Above all, it exposes the cruelty and irrationality of the present law. Last Rights should be read by legislators, by physicians and by those whom this issue will affect – that is to say all of us."Ray Tallis, philosopher and emeritus professor of geriatric medicine
“Modern medicine makes it possible to live longer lives, but we will all die. We want death to be pain-free and calm, with our loved ones at our side, but the reality for some dying people is one of prolonged suffering and distress. Last Rights demonstrates that we can do much better for dying people. How? We must change the law on assisted dying and change our culture so that dying people have real power to decide on the death they want."Joan Bakewell
“The moral (and, for me, the Christian) case for a change in the law is irrefutable. Covid-19 has forced us all to rethink our certainties about death and dying. How can a country that cares so deeply for victims of this virus be so indifferent to those who, at the end of life, suffer indignity and intractable pain? Sarah Wootton and Lloyd Riley make a timely and powerful case for assisted dying.”Lord Carey of Clifton, Archbishop of Canterbury 1991–2002
“We pride ourselves on our freedom to control our own lives. Yet we are not allowed to control our departure when our suffering is unbearable. There must be a proper inquiry into this ultimate denial of basic human rights. This book makes a powerful case for it.”John Humphrys
“The right to die on our own terms is the last frontier in a long battle to take control of our own beings, our bodies, our life and death. As we continue to grapple with a pandemic that has brought our own mortality centre stage, Last Rights makes an urgent, thoughtful case for why now is the time for the victory of compassion and kindness over the cowardice and dogma that prop up the status quo.”Polly Toynbee
“Last Rights is a much-needed contribution to the conversation that we must all start to have about dying. In a society that talks so much about human rights, so many forget that one of the most fundamental human rights must surely be an individual’s right to choose when and how they die.”Julia Hartley-Brewer
“I cannot think of a better time to publish this vitally important book, which makes a compelling case for changing the outdated, harsh laws that prevent us from having any choice as to how we die, and any hope of a compassionate death.”Dame Carmen Callil, publisher and writer
“Last Rights is a powerful reminder that choice at the end of life is only accessible to those with the money to travel to Switzerland or the means to take matters into their own hands. Fifty years ago, society recognised that forcing women to endure the trauma of a backstreet abortion was unacceptable; the time has now come for us to show the same compassion to dying people.”Diana Melly, author and campaigner
“Supporters of assisted dying come from all walks of life but are united in deprecating the cruelty and suffering arising from the current law and united in the belief that the autonomy of dying people is a value worth fighting for. This book provides both a serious challenge to the establishment that has resisted law change to date and a rallying call to the compassionate majority.”Rabbi Danny Rich, Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism 2004–20
“I am a disability rights advocate. I am also a religious person. Because of these commitments, not despite them, I support the option of assisted dying as a choice for those who are terminally ill. You are free to ignore me, but I do not think you are free to ignore this book.”Tom Shakespeare FBA, Professor of Disability Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
“I have looked after patients who had a good death but also witnessed patients who suffered unimaginably despite our best efforts at palliative care. How we die should not be a lottery, and this book is a call for justice and choice. Every doctor, whether they agree with assisted dying or not, should try to understand why dignity in death should be right for all of us.”Dr Aneez Esmail, Professor of General Practice at the University of Manchester, medical advisor to the Shipman Inquiry 2000–05
“This book has never been more important. The Covid-19 pandemic has given many of us a sense of our own mortality. And while many people can, often with the help of our extraordinary palliative care professionals, ‘live until they die’, others do not have that privilege. This book puts a powerful argument to afford our citizens the right to leave this world in a place, time and manner of their choosing."Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP, broadcaster and author
“I have been a GP in the East End of London for thirty years. Despite our best efforts, some terminally ill patients suffer and would choose to end their life on their terms. This book sets out how a new law would give them and their families one of the greatest gifts in life, a good death, and why the time for change is now.”Professor Sir Sam Everington MBBS MRCGP OBE, barrister and GP
“As a doctor who sees the full spectrum of what death is, good and bad, this book is a poignant reminder of why our laws need to change. I want every patient and every colleague to read it and see beyond our collective reluctance to talk about the end of life. We only have one chance to get death right for every person – read this, talk to your loved ones, and don’t be afraid.”Dr Zoe Norris, GP and whistleblower on sexism at the British Medical Association
“If we defer the question of assisted dying to future generations, they will be astonished at the horror we knowingly subjected dying people to. Last Rights sets out the definitive case for why we must now provide people with the option of a peaceful death, surrounded by those they love."Nell Dunn, author of Up the Junction and Poor Cow
"A powerfully argued study of how assisted dying can go hand in hand with compassion, decency and moral depth."The Tablet
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