death: is it your right to choose?

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

Trigger warning: this post and comments from contributors contain details of death and illness that some people may find distressing.

Lisa Graves, Curator – World Cultures

Interior of Dignitas FlatThe second death related exhibition, death: is it your right to choose? opens at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery on Saturday 23 January 2016. It will look at end-of-life options in this country and focus on whether we should allow assisted dying to be legalised.

Whilst researching death: the human experience it became obvious that this was one of the most controversial aspects of contemporary death but also one of the areas that deserved to be better understood by a wider cross-section of the public.

I had heard of people travelling to Switzerland to have help to end their lives, I had heard of a place called Dignitas but I didn’t know that a vote in our Parliament on changing UK law was imminent (an assisted dying bill had its first reading in the House of Lords in June 2015 and a second one was debated in the House of Commons in September 2015). It seemed clear to me that as a museum talking about death and dying, we should give over some of our public space to debate what we as a society think about assisted dying.

Luckily, the Wellcome Trust also thought it was a good idea and gave us money to help construct the exhibition, make films about end-of-life questions and fund various educational and public events aimed at promoting wider public engagement with these topics.

Some people may feel that assisted dying is not a subject a museum should be concerning itself with. I disagree. I think a museum is exactly the right place to challenge preconceptions, to inform in areas of public interest and be a space where different opinions and voices can be heard. It’s important to talk about death and dying, it’s important to talk about things that will affect the way we leave this world – even if they make us feel uncomfortable.

I hope you’ll visit the exhibition, perhaps learn something about the debate and leave your thoughts in our assisted dying survey. The results will be available in the gallery and online, along with further sources of information. The assisted dying debate on 26 January will be a great opportunity to hear from a range of experts and see where the people of Bristol stand on this most challenging of current issues. Bring along your mobile device to get involved in a poll during the debate, and if you can’t make it in person you can listen live to the debate online. You can also watch a film related to one of the speakers from the debate, Lesley Close, who accompanied her brother John to Dignitas in 2003.

What are your views on assisted dying? Tell us in the comments section below.

Watch videos from the exhibition

You may also be interested in the Science and Ethics video from the death: the human experience exhibition:

Results from the exhibition survey

In the exhibition, we ask visitors

After seeing the exhibition, I think that the law in this country should allow assisted dying.

View the live responses to this question.

Further reading and information

14 comments on “death: is it your right to choose?

  1. F Morris

    Each circumstance is different. Very much like abortion, I believe that people should be allowed to make their own decisions, in a safe environment. More choice doesn’t necc mean more people will choose it, but it allows people to feel they have an option. Some freedom over themselves. Looking forward to the talk!


    1. Lucia Potter

      I agree , we should have the choice on both issues. The assumption at the moment is that we haven’t the intelligence to choose, I object to that assumption. Thank you. Xx


  2. Mel Osborne

    Absolutely we should have the right to assisted dying in the UK. Opponents will always cite rare last minute recoveries and the fear that sick people will feel compelled to end their lives rather than be a burden on their families. I think with well thought out safeguards, the UK could end the suffering of many terminally ill people by allowing assisted suicide.


  3. Perry Walker

    If you want to pursue this subject, you might like to look at the coverage of assisted dying on a website I run, It asks you to rate a dozen key arguments on the topic. Before and after doing this, you are asked for your view. At the end, you can see a summary of whether and how your view changed, which arguments you rated most highly, and how your views compare with those of other participants. This can be done in as little as ten minutes, or as long as you want to give it.
    The coverage of assisted dying is at


  4. Peter Sowerby

    This exhibition is a propaganda platform for the ex euthanasia society who now disguise themselves as dying with dignity organisation.They failed in our parliament to change our law protecting the dying, sick,vulnerable and disabled from them and also failed with the government funded Liverpool Care Pathway euthanasia program that killed thousands before the public realised they were being murdered in their hospital beds and stopped it. This museum should not be taking money from the Welcome trust who in my opinion supports euthanasia and cannot be trusted obout anything.


    1. Tanya

      I have been in a situation where an operation made me well. Without that operation I would have been disabled and in constant pain until I died.
      I decided then that that was unacceptable to me. Other people make other decisions, that is fine by me.
      Why do you think you have the right to condem me to years of suffering by suggesting I am not capable of making decisions for myself?
      I am not a vulnerable person, I do not need protection. Nobody has suggested I would be a burden in fact quite the opposite, fortunately those people who might also believe we all have the right to make sure own decisions.
      I believe you have a choice, I respect that, you should do the same for me.


    2. Phil Cheatle

      I agree with Peter Sowerby that “dying, sick, vulnerable and disabled” people need to be very well protected from any persuasion that they should choose to end their lives. HOWEVER, those same people, together with others who are not so “vulnerable”, need to be listened to if they, quite rationally, persistently and with full understanding of the available facts, decide that their life is complete, their quality of life is intolerably low and will not get better, and that rather than continue to suffer, they would prefer a medically assisted death to free them from further pain and anguish. “Protection” needs to work both ways: protection from having to continue to live a life of incurably and unacceptably low quality that the person no longer wishes to live, as well as protection from pressure to choose to end one’s life against one’s wishes. A change in the law is required to provide this balance of “protection”.


  5. Michael Irwin

    In four other Western European countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and Switzerland) today, with the support of a great majority of their populations and their doctors, it is possible for an adult, who is suffering unbearably from an incurable illness, to receive medical assistance to die. Are we so different, in the UK, from those who live in these countries? Of course not.
    I am a retired GP. In my view, a compassionate doctor should always do what is best for his/her patients. During my career, like many other doctors, I have helped some of my patients – who have asked for my assistance – to die. And, since my retirement, I have accompanied four determined individuals from the UK to Switzerland for them to have a doctor-assisted suicide – each time, it was a most dignified end.
    One day, thank goodness, the law will be changed in the UK.


    1. Michael F.

      Hello Michael Irwin,

      I am currently working on a project on assisted suicide for my bachelor degree in photography in Switzerland.

      Looking for stories on people who traveled (or will travel) to Switzerland to make use of assisted suicide I found your comment. I would be very interested to get in contact with you and hear about your experience. Maybe you also have more information for me about people who are planning a travel to Switzerland, or any hints where I could look for.
      Please reach me via mike2190 (at)

      Best regards,
      Michael F.


  6. Carole Tilling

    I am a woman in my eighties who is considering Dying with Dignity. I watched my own parents die very slow and awful deaths and I have no wish to experience this end to what has been, a very full and active life. I would rather forgo a few extra years of longevity in order to be remembered by my family as I have been all my life, and that is, bright,
    humorous, and active. No one has a right to make this decision for me. Please remember this is voluntary euthanasia.


    1. james Carpenter

      I totally agree with you Carole.
      Its a person right to decide when they want to die and without pain and with dignity.


    2. Michael F.

      Hello Carole Tilling,
      I am currently working on a project on assisted suicide for my bachelor degree in photography in Switzerland.
      Looking for stories on people who traveled (or will travel) to Switzerland to make use of assisted suicide I found your comment. I would be very interested to get in contact with you and get to know more about your opinion.
      Please reach me via mike2190 (at)
      Best regards,
      Michael F.


  7. Mrs. Jane Doe

    I am currently 59 years old.
    I am a severely disabled woman that requires 24 care.
    I have lost all dominion over my body.
    It has been prodded and
    poked by more than 45 separate medical staff of both genders.
    And will only continue to increase as I live on.
    Which, for an extremely modest woman such as myself, has felt nothing less than torture, to my self esteem.

    I must endure the soul-crushing procedure of being strung up in a sling, suspended on a lift, and digitally stimulated to evacuate my bowels.
    Then wiped and cleaned as though I were a baby.
    Not to mention the humiliation of having diapers pulled up between my legs,
    and taped on each side of my hips.

    That I should no longer have the essential
    ability to perform this process independently, in complete privacy, robs me of the little dignity that I have left.
    My catheter must be changed every three weeks.
    I must spread my legs open to any new nurse who happens to be able to come on the change date on the schedule.
    Different staff, including several men,
    and PT have had to help keep my legs open …

    Must be helped with 100% of my existence, including being turned every two hours throughout the night.
    Meaning I have not had an uninterrupted 6 or 8 hours of sleep since my injury.

    {Date of injury November 25th, /2015
    It is currently May 21, 2019} ~
    Medical staff had promised one “adapts”
    at the two year mark. It has been over three years now and nothing of the sort has even come close it.

    This quality of life is unendurable.
    None of the people in my life would want to be left without the option for a “Compassionate Release”.
    Including a physician friend, my female lawyer, and all of my friends.
    My family believes only I have the ultimate right to determine what is and is not tolerable.

    I have a Physician state my condition is permanent .
    I have a Psychiatrist say I am of sound mind to make health decisions on my own.
    But because of the current illegality of providing choice to a non- terminal case, I could not have my files reflect my case in the specific format required to receive the green light from Dignitas.

    So I must carry out an interminable life sentence of the above mentioned details.

    Seems cruel for someone in complete charge mentally, who has taken the time to well consider the subject, to be denied the choice of a dignified close of life.

    After all, if there was no continued human interference, nature would have completed this life cycle.

    Since it is made evident that only others can make the decision for how we must endure our fate,
    I say,
    to all my fellow inmates,
    who may feel as imprisoned as I do, you are not alone.

    In a body, that holds us captive,
    waiting, and waiting some more.
    For the day, maybe decades from now,
    for God’s mercy.


  8. Dianne M

    I don’t believe in God.

    I wish you could be set free. I am so sorry that you are suffering.

    I don’t want this to happen to me …


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