Assisted dying: #isawdeath debate at Bristol Museum

On 26 January the Bristol Museum hosted an assisted dying panel debate chaired by Professor Richard Huxtable of Bristol University’s Centre for Ethics in Medicine. This was part of the Museum’s larger exhibition Death: The Human Experience.

The panel included academics, a palliative care doctor, a representative from Dignitas and the sister of an individual who had used Dignitas’ services.  Their views were diverse – some were personal and some professional – and considered death, dying and whether assisted dying should be allowed.

The law in England and Wales is clear: killing someone is illegal. This is a very definite line in the sand. However, the ethics of this position is emotive and with a packed house at the museum there were some interesting views expressed. Three times during the debate the audience was asked to vote on whether assisted dying should be legalised and there was a marked shift away from ‘yes’ to ‘no’ and ‘not sure’.

The larger exhibition looked at how death has fascinated humans for a very long time and a number of exhibits were linked to the grieving process.  While death is a finite point, it involves considerable emotional and practical phases.  The process of dying is personal and individual, so it was interesting to hear the view of Dr Katherine E Sleeman – Clinical Lecturer in Palliative Medicine (#isawdeath) that perhaps we should be considering the improvement of palliative care rather than assisting death. Focussing on the individual, is very much the ethos behind recent legislation such as the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and Care Act 2014.

Whatever your personal views on assisted dying, planning for end of life issues, such as preparation of advance decisions and/or powers of attorneys can be invaluable. These topics along with end of life care, capacity and best interests are all part of the agenda for Clarke Willmott’s Capacity and End of life Care – Ethics in Practice event on 3 March 2016. We are hosting this with the Centre for Ethics in Medicine and are delighted to announce that Baroness Ilora Finlay doctor, professor of palliative medicine, and an Independent Crossbench member of the House of Lords will be joining us as our keynote speaker. Places are limited, so if you are interested in attending, please contact Victoria James at