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Assisted Dying: Private Member’s Bill First Reading due in Lords

Diginity in Dying | Dignity in Dying

4 min read Partner content

Sets in motion first debate on prospective legislation for more than five years

A private member’s bill on assisted dying will receive its First Reading in the House of Lords tomorrow, Wednesday 26 May 2021, paving the way for a debate on prospective legislation - the first in Westminster for more than five years. Tomorrow Dignity in Dying’s Chair, Baroness Meacher, will formally introduce the bill to the House of Lords, with a full Second Reading debate anticipated later this year, likely in the autumn.

The bill would legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life, a change supported by 84% of the British public. Two independent doctors and a High Court judge would have to assess each request, which if granted would enable a terminally ill person to die in a manner, time and place of their choosing. The legislation is based on a bill tabled by Lord Falconer in 2014, which was supported by Peers at Second Reading. Two opposition amendments were defeated by large margins at Committee Stage, however the parliamentary session ended before it could progress further. The bill is modelled on legislation that has been in place in Oregon, USA for over 23 years, since adopted by 10 other American states, three Australian states and New Zealand.

Last month the Health Secretary announced to a cross-party group on choice at the end of life that he had requested data from the Office for National Statistics on suicides by terminally ill people and on assisted deaths in Switzerland of British nationals, and highlighted the importance of an evidence-based debate. This followed comments Mr Hancock made in the House of Commons in November and January this year, stating the Government’s role in obtaining a fuller understanding of the functioning of current assisted dying laws and stressing the importance of suicide prevention and patient safety measures. MPs debated the functioning of the current law on assisted dying in a Backbench Business Committee Debate in July 2019 and in a Westminster Hall debate in January 2020, where a majority of MPs who spoke called for a review of the blanket ban on assisted dying.

Baroness Meacher, Chair of Dignity in Dying, said:

“My private member’s bill on assisted dying is modest in its scope and yet its potential to transform all our lives and deaths for the better is colossal. This option would enable terminally ill, mentally competent people whose suffering is beyond the reach of palliative care to die well and on their own terms, should they choose it. And it would also provide invaluable comfort and control to countless more who may never avail themselves of this option but would be comforted by the simple fact of its existence. It is an insurance policy against intolerable suffering, and that benefits us all.

“Meanwhile, the current law thwarts open discussion between dying people, their doctors, friends and family, forcing people to suffer unbearably against their wishes or contemplate sedation, starvation, suicide or Switzerland. It is time for Parliament to act and thus improve the ability of all of us to lead happier lives in the knowledge that we will have some control over how we die, as is already available to an increasing number of citizens the world over.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

“The Westminster Parliament will now look again at legalising assisted dying, and rightly so; the ban causes heartache and injustice for so many dying people and their families across the UK. Peers have been in the majority supportive of law change and MPs are increasingly following suit, recognising that the blanket ban on assisted dying simply does not work. It is time for the UK to grasp this nettle. We hope sufficient time is given to this bill, brought by Dignity in Dying’s Chair, Baroness Meacher, to progress through all of its stages in the Lords so that this issue receives the attention it deserves.

“With lockdowns and travel bans making Dignitas virtually impossible for the past year, terminally ill Brits have been forced to suffer against their wishes or take matters into their own hands. Meanwhile, in recent months New Zealand, Spain and states across the US and Australia have passed assisted dying laws; Germany and Austria are considering legislation; closer to home a Bill in Ireland is making its way through the Dáil and Jersey is holding a citizens’ jury on the topic. In Scotland, two parties made manifesto pledges on assisted dying and legislation is due to be introduced in Holyrood later this year.

“Emerging from the pandemic, there has never been a better time for reform - for our parliament to pass pragmatic, safe and compassionate assisted dying laws for the people who really need them.”

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