death: is it your right to choose?

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

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. 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 or tweet us @bristolmuseum using #ISawDeath.

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

9 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!

    Reply

  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.

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  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, http://www.openupuk.org. 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 http://openupuk.org/maps/intro/13

    Reply

  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.

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    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.

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    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”.

      Reply

  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.

    Reply

  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.

    Reply

    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.

      Reply

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