At the end of May, a Private Member's Bill received its first reading in the House of Lords which sets in motion the first debate on prospective legislation for more than five years. Dignity in Dying chair, Baroness Meacher introduced the Bill on 26 May 2021, with a full second reading anticipated in the autumn. But have attitudes to assisted dying changed?
The Bill proposes to legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill patients with mental capacity in their final months of life, a change supported by 84 per cent of the British public according to a poll commissioned by Dignity in Dying. It would require two independent doctors and a High Court judge to assess the request, which if accepted would allow the terminally ill patient to die in the manner, time and place of their choosing. The Bill is based on Lord Falconer’s 2014 Bill and is similar to the Bill proposed by Rob Marris MP which was overwhelmingly rejected in 2015. Currently assisted death in the UK is prohibited under the Suicide Act 1961. You can read our earlier blog on assisted dying here.
The Health Secretary has requested data from the Office for National Statistics on suicides by terminally ill people and on assisted deaths in Switzerland of British nationals to help inform an evidence-based debate.
Commenting on the Bill, 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.
… 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.”
Also commenting on the Bill, Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said that emerging from the pandemic there had never been a better time for reform as “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 in their own hands.”
We will keep readers updated.