Social Science blog

22 November 2012

Debating the right to die and other challenging topics

Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library discusses his work with Speakers' Corner Trust to produce a bibliography on 'The Right to Die' debate.

A great thing about the British Library is that it enables you to take serious subjects and explore them from a range of viewpoints. The British Library has been working with Speakers’ Corner Trust, providing guides to accompany their Forum for Debate series, which promote public deliberation and debate.

Earlier this month, Speakers’ Corner Trust published ‘The Right to Die – Personal Choice or Public Safety’. This debate explores the controversial topic of assisted dying, with contributions from Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, and Dr Peter Saunders, the Campaign Director for the Care Not Killing Alliance. Recent cases in the UK have brought this sensitive topic to public prominence, with comparisons made between the legal situation in the UK and jurisdictions such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Oregon in the US. At the heart of legal debates are questions of rights, medical ethics and protection for vulnerable people. Those arguing for a change in law to enable assisted dying point to the suffering reported by those at the end of their lives and expressing a wish to die. Those opposed argue that a ‘right to die’ could become interpreted by vulnerable people as a ‘duty to die’, and that the answer lies in improving patient care at the end of life

5400843133_67bffe817d   Speakers' Corner © Jorden rundt og hjem igen

However, the debate is not solely a legal or legislative one, with issues of religious belief, morality, medical science, and studies of public policy all playing an important role. The British Library’s collections, cutting across disciplines, countries and, crucially, points of view, allow you to explore how these complex factors combine. The guide to this debate provides an introduction to our collections and services, and also shows how these topics are debated in the news and on the web.

As always, working with Speakers’ Corner Trust provides an opportunity to explore in detail a topical and controversial subject. The debaters bring expert knowledge and personal experience, challenging you to examine and question your opinions on a topic. Producing guides for the series has always included an element of personal surprise, as I’ve found that the way I think about a subject has changed, sometimes quite considerably, through reading the debates and researching the guide.

The aim of the Forum for Debate series is to inform opinion and stimulate face-to-face debate.. If you haven’t seen these before, now is an excellent time to get inspired and get talking. Previous topics are kept in the archive, and include: press regulation; legalising the drugs trade; animal experimentation, GM foods; and the economics of football.


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