[Skip to content]

Sign up for our daily newsletter
The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Time to tackle an age-old issue


If we are quiet we risk becoming lost in the background noise

In the April issue, the president draws attention to the “many implications for individuals in the ways in which we conduct our lives... of living beyond the age of 100... as actuaries we are well placed to deal with the many permutations that are implied”.

Marjorie Ngwenya hopes that “medical advances will continue to improve the quality of our lives”. Medical research is largely funded by the pharmaceutical giants, whose financial interests lie in extending lifespan rather than in the quality of the added years.

Having been a member of the institute since 1942, I am among the longest surviving members, and the longest serving past-president. Years of service as a member of the Continuous Mortality Investigation committee, 12 years’ membership of Dignitas, and even longer membership of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society – now euphemistically renamed Dignity in Dying – entitle me, I hope, to add my two-pennies’ worth to the debate Marjorie has initiated.

Opinions about ‘assisted suicide’ are sharply divided. Surveys carried out by the British Social Attitudes series have consistently shown that, among the population at large, there is a ‘silent majority’ – around 80% – in favour of permitting assisted voluntary suicide in medically certified cases of incurable terminal conditions. However, an attempt to legislate in favour of strictly controlled assisted suicide, initiated in the House of Lords, was defeated in the House of Commons in 2015 by a well-organised and well-funded opposition.

Fifteen associations representing members of the medical profession have considered the issue. Five, including the British Medical Association, have expressed opposition to assisted dying while four, including the Royal College of Nursing, have declared themselves to be neutral. Six, including the General Medical Council, have not taken up a position.

The opinions of individual members of our profession may or may not be equally divided. But in considering the implications of living beyond 100 as Marjorie invites us to do, ‘assisted suicide’ is surely an issue which our profession is not only qualified, but has a duty, to consider in the public interest.

As Derek Cribb writes in the same issue of this magazine, “If we are quiet we risk becoming lost in the background noise, failing both our members and the public interest.”

Antony Ratcliff 

13 April 2018