The question of assisted dying has not been out of the media spotlight in recent months. Although the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was blocked by the House of Lords in 2006, a spate of TV dramas and documentary films have revived the debate about introducing a change to the law to assist terminally ill patients who request the 'right to die'.
Former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt's recent campaign to amend the Coroners and Justice Bill, campaigner Debbie Purdy's recent legal victory, and Gordon Brown's announcement that he is firmly opposed, have kept the issue in the headlines.
Proponents of assisted dying aim to give people the ability to control their destiny. But many are also concerned that loosening the law would be a slippery slope leading to an increasing prevalence of assisted suicide, and would open the door to euthanasia. Others worry a change to the law would signal a cultural acceptance of suicide more generally.
Critics, both secular and religious, oppose any new legislation. They emphasize the value of life and argue for a focus on prolonging life or on palliative care, suggesting that legalizing assisted dying would irretrievably transform the relationship between doctors and patients.
Advocates of assisted dying retort that legalization would allow the practice to be publicly regulated and scrutinized.
Does the right to die at the time and manner that one wishes follow directly from the right to choose how one lives? Or should suicide always be discouraged? How does the concept of ‘dignity’ fit in to this discussion? And why has the assisted dying debate come to assume such cultural and political importance in recent years?
Helen Birtwistle is press officer for the Institute of Ideas & Pfizer's Debating Matters Competition, an innovative and engaging new style of debating competition for sixth form students in the UK.
She completed a Masters course in Intellectual and Cultural History at the University of London in September 2005.
As well as being the editor of spiked, Brendan is also a columnist for the Big Issue and Reason. He writes widely for a variety of other publications, including the Telegraph, the Spectator and the Australian. He is the author, most recently, of A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays (2015).
Debbie Purdy has had a varied career combining travelling the world with earning a living. This has included waitressing in Norway, dancing in Japan, campaigning in Hong Kong, marketing in the UK and freelance journalism and writing.
Debbie Purdy became interested in the issue of assisted dying during Diane Pretty's legal battle for the choice of assisted dying a decade ago. Debbie Purdy then became an active member and a Board member of the campaigning organisation Dignity in Dying before she gave up her place on the Board to pursue her legal case to clarify the existing law. Debbie Purdy won this case in June 2009 and awaits the Director of Public prosecutions interim policy on what will be prosecuted in cases of assisting suicide as the law stands. This policy will be followed by a full consultation. Debbie's Purdy victory has transformed the landscape of assisted dying. During this legal battle Purdy has featured on every major UK news channel and in news around the world as well as in many newspapers and publications.
Raymond Tallis was trained at the University of Oxford and St Thomas's Hospital, qualifying in 1970. He was a Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester and a consultant physician in Health Care of the Elderly in Salford (1987-2006).
He had responsibility for acute and rehabilitation patients and took part in the on call rota for acute medical emergencies. He also ran a unique specialist epilepsy service for older people.
In 2000 he was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences; in 2002 he was awarded the Dhole Eddlestone Prize for his contribution to the medical literature on elderly people; in 2006 received the Founders Medal of the British Geriatrics Society; and in 2007 the Lord Cohen Gold Medal for Research into Ageing.
His national roles have included: Consultant Advisor in Health Care of the Elderly to the Chief Medical Officer; a key part in developing National Service Framework for Older People, in particular the standard on stroke; membership of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence Appraisal Committee; and Chairmanship of the Royal College of Physicians Committee on Ethics in Medicine.
Outside his medical career, he has been awarded two honorary degrees: DLitt (Hon Causa) from the University of Hull in 1997; and LittD (Hon Causa) from the University of Manchester in 2002.
In 2004 he was identified in Prospect magazine as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the United Kingdom.
In the first half of 2008, he has books coming out on Parmenides (Continuum), the head (Atlantic) and hunger (Acumen).
His numerous medical publications include two major textbooks, while most of his research publications are in the field of neurology of old age and neurological rehabilitation. He has also published fiction, three volumes of poetry, and over a dozen books and 150 articles on the philosophy of the mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, the nature of art and cultural criticism.
Kevin Yuill is senior lecturer in History and American Studies at Sunderland University. He is now preparing a book outlining a humanist, libertarian case against assisted suicide. Previously, he has published articles in Spiked, The Spectator, and The Tablet and other journals on assisted suicide as well as articles on the rise of therapeutic methods of governing during the Nixon administration, the sociology of Robert Ezra Park, and the origins of country music.