Parliament to debate problems with blanket ban on assisted dying

Posted On: 
4th July 2019

Ann Whaley and other families attend to watch Parliament debate assisted dying for first time since rejection of Marris Bill in 2015.

The first major Commons debate on assisted dying since 2015 will take place on Thursday 4 July 2019. The debate has been prompted by the case of Ann and Geoffrey Whaley, and will explore the functioning of the current law relating to assisted dying and the issues it causes for terminally ill people and their families.

Geoffrey Whaley, 80, from Buckinghamshire, died at Dignitas in Switzerland on 7 February 2019. He had terminal motor neurone disease and in December was told he had just months left to live. He decided that he wished to control his death rather than suffer what he considered to be a drawn-out, traumatic end. Due to an anonymous call to local authorities that Geoffrey planned to end his life abroad, he and his wife Ann, 76, were both investigated by police and social services. The family feared that Geoffrey would be prevented from travelling or that Ann might be arrested for ‘assisting a suicide’; a crime which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Karin Smyth MP: It's time to re-think our outdated and uncompassionate assisted dying laws

Ann recently launched Acts of Love, a campaign that brings together families across the country who have been affected by the current law on assisted dying. Ann, along with Nick Boles MP and Sarah Wootton of Dignity in Dying, met with the Justice Secretary David Gauke MP in June. There they pressed for the government to examine the problems with the current law and the consequences for families like hers.

Nick Boles, who will introduce the debate, said:

“Ann and Geoff’s experiences in the weeks leading up to Geoff’s death have shown more clearly than ever the cruel effects of Britain’s blanket ban on assisted dying. Today’s debate will give MPs a chance to debate the impact of the current law on hundreds of families like the Whaleys every year and help build the case for a change in the law so that thousands of others are spared this torment in the years to come.”

Karin Smyth MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life, said:

“In February I was privileged to host a meeting with the Whaleys, when they came to tell MPs about the dreadful impact our laws had on them as a family. For Ann to be interviewed under caution for simply helping her husband of more than fifty years to have the death he wants cannot be right.

“Not only does their story show that we must do better for dying people in this country, we must do much better for the public servants who are forced to try and enforce this broken law. To ask police officers to intrude on a law-abiding family in the last days and weeks before the loss of their loved ones will put them under enormous emotional strain. When we continue to criminalise simple acts of love, giving dying people choice at the end of life, we cannot claim to be a compassionate country.”

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

“Ann and Geoffrey are not alone in feeling the dreadful effects of the UK’s broken law on assisted dying. Compassion is not a crime, yet families across the country have been made to feel like criminals for acting out of love for a dying loved one. Others did not have the funds or means to act and instead watching helplessly as a relative suffered a traumatic death or took drastic steps to end their own life. MPs need to hear these stories.

“Medical organisations are shifting their positions. The Royal College of Physicians has this year decided to take a neutral view on assisted dying, while the British Medical Association and the Royal College of GPs have recently announced that they will survey their members on the issue. The US, Canada, Australia and New Jersey all have, or are moving towards, assisted dying laws that grant their terminally ill citizens true choice at the end of life.

“It is high time that MPs have a detailed, respectful debate on this important issue and I hope that they will listen to constituents’ experiences with an open mind. It is also time for Government to act on our broken laws and hold an inquiry into the devastation caused to dying people and their families across the UK.”

Ann Whaley said:

“I am delighted that the Commons has granted the opportunity to discuss this important matter, particularly at such a busy time for Parliament. Geoffrey’s dying wish was for me to continue his legacy by telling his story and I hope that MPs will come to the debate and listen to his and the other stories behind the Acts of Love campaign.”