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Westminster Hall debate: Majority of speakers back inquiry into assisted dying laws

Dignity in Dying

4 min read Partner content

Commons debate follows discussions in Isle of Man’s Parliament, where assisted dying was debated yesterday for first time since 2015.

A majority of MPs speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on assisted dying this afternoon (Thursday 23 January 2020) have backed an inquiry into current legislation. This follows an assisted dying debate in the Isle of Man’s Parliament yesterday (Wednesday 22 January 2020), in which amendments to block or delay discussion were heavily defeated.

Christine Jardine MP led the Westminster Hall debate, raising concerns about the functioning and impact of the UK’s blanket ban on assisted dying and calling for a Government inquiry into current legislation.

Support for a call for evidence was expressed by a majority of speakers, including newly elected MPs Alicia Kearns, Elliot Colburn and Aaron Bell. The experiences of those who have been criminalised under the current law, such as Ann Whaley and Mavis Eccleston, were raised by several speakers.

Dr Alex Allinson MHK (Member of the House of Keys) proposed a motion on assisted dying at the January sitting of Tynwald yesterday, commenting that the debate had delivered on its aim to “promote discussion”. It was the first time Tynwald had debated the issue since 2015.

Opponents of assisted dying lodged a negative amendment that would have seen the Tynwald vote against any further discussion of assisted dying, but this was heavily defeated. Another amendment that urged for the debate to be delayed until further research and consultation could be carried out was also voted down.

Dr Allinson’s original motion was amended by a unanimous vote of the Tynwald, meaning that the Manx Parliament has noted the debate and the views of individual members on assisted dying. This ensures that the debate on assisted dying on the Isle of Man remains an active issue, in spite of heavy lobbying to the contrary.

Speaking at the Westminster Hall debate, Christine Jardine said:

“The current law in this country on assisted dying is simply not working, and what I am hoping we will begin to address today is understanding the effect of that law on terminally ill people and their loved ones, and on the public servants - doctors, health and social care professionals, police and coroners - who in different ways are also profoundly affected by our laws on assisted dying.”

Commenting on the Tynwald debate, Dr Allinson said:

“I am glad that the motion triggered a debate not only in Tynwald but in our wider community. The result demonstrates an appetite for more discussion of the principals of assisted dying and willingness by the island to consider choice and autonomy being at the heart of end of life care.”

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

“Parliamentarians in Westminster and the Isle of Man should be commended for grasping the nettle on this important topic. A clear majority of MPs speaking at the Westminster debate support an inquiry into our cruel laws, and attempts to shut down this vital conversation in Tynwald were heavily defeated.

“A change in the law is supported by the vast majority of the British public, who recognise that the status quo is simply not working. Compassion should not be a crime, but under our current assisted dying laws, it is. Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Keys rightly pointed out that it is compassion which is driving this debate.

“Not only are terminally ill people denied the right to die on their own terms, forcing them to resort to drastic measures at home and abroad, but their family members are then criminalised for acts of love. Our outdated assisted dying laws deserve to be scrutinised, not dying people and their families.

“Meanwhile overseas, one in three Australians, one in five Americans, all Canadians and likely soon all New Zealanders will have access to safe, compassionate assisted dying laws. Jurisdictions across the British Isles should follow in their footsteps. Mounting evidence shows that this is not only possible, but the right thing to do.”