Assisted Dying Bill- MPs reject right to die law
MPs have rejected plans for a right to die in England and Wales in their first vote on the issue in almost 20 years.
In a passionate debate, some argued the plans allowed a “dignified and peaceful death” while others said they were “totally unacceptable”.
Pro-assisted dying campaigners said the result showed MPs were out of touch.
Under the proposals, people with fewer than six months to live could have been prescribed a lethal dose of drugs, which they had to be able to take themselves. Two doctors and a High Court judge would have needed to approve each case.
But Sarah Wootton, the chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said it was an “outrage” that MPs had gone against the views of the majority of the public who supported the bill.
A series of high profile and emotionally charged right to die cases have appeared in the courts.
But the response from judges has been clear. As Lord Justice Toulson ruled in the case of Tony Nicklinson: “These are matters for Parliament to decide.”
Now the message from politicians has been an overwhelming rejection of the right to die.
And opinion is not shifting – 74% of MPs voted against this bill compared with 72% back in 1997. The emphatic nature of the result would suggest politicians are unlikely to discuss this again soon.
Campaigners will regroup and point to their own polls showing 82% of the public back assisted dying and calls for change may yet intensify with an ageing population.
The latest proposals were brought before the Commons by Rob Marris, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West.
Opening the debate, Mr Marris said the current law did not meet the needs of the terminally ill, families or the medical profession.
He said there were too many “amateur suicides, and people going to Dignitas” and it was time for Parliament to debate the issue because “social attitudes have changed”.
Mr Marris added: “This bill would provide more protection for the living and more choice for the dying.”
Mr Marris said he did not know what choice he would make if he was terminally ill, but said it would be comforting to know that the choice was available.
Euthanasia, which is considered as manslaughter or murder, is illegal under English law.
The Suicide Act 1961 makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales. Anyone doing so could face up to 14 years in prison. The law is almost identical in Northern Ireland.
There is no specific law on assisted suicide in Scotland, creating some uncertainty, although in theory someone could be prosecuted under homicide legislation.
In a lengthy speech, Labour MP Sir Keir Starmer told MPs about prosecution guidelines he developed in his role as director of public prosecutions, when he had to deal with a number of “right to die” cases, including those of Debbie Purdy and Tony Nicklinson.
But he warned that his guidelines had shortcomings without a change in the law.
He said: “We have arrived at a position where compassionate amateur assistance from nearest and dearest is accepted, but professional medical assistance is not unless you have the means of physical assistance to get to Dignitas.
The British Medical Association, the doctor’s union, opposes all forms of assisted dying whilst the Royal College of Nursing takes a neutral stance.