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MPs report prompts calls to renew assisted dying vote

A new health and social care committee report has warned the government must consider how to react if territories like the Isle of Man relax their rules around assisted dying.  

The committee has said it is looking ‘increasingly likely’ that islands such as Jersey and the Isle of Man are going to legalise assisted dying and has urged the government to come up with a plan about what to do if terminally ill patients in Britain want to travel to use the treatments there.

Assisted dying, which is currently illegal in the UK, allows for terminally ill patients to decide when they want to end their life. The concept involves doctors prescribing patients with a drug they do not otherwise need, such as an overdose of sedatives or muscle relaxant.

Assisted suicide, which is also illegal under the terms of the Suicide Act (1961), involves a loved one helping a terminally ill patient to die. Being included in this is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

The health and social care committee launched their enquiry eight months ago and has been criticised by various campaigns for not making any recommendations for parliament to vote on the issue.

An example of this is Dame Esther Rantzen, an 83-year-old journalist who has stage four cancer, whose revelation that she had joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic in Switzerland put the subject under the spotlight in recent months. She said she was ‘disappointed’ that there had been no clear call for a vote.

Dame Esther has been campaigning on the issue, including backing the launch of a petition demanding a parliamentary vote, which amassed thousands of signatures over a couple weeks.

In addition, Dame Esther, who also founded Childline, told the PA news agency: ‘The current law is a mess…this report does not help very much for those of us who desperately want the current law to change for the sake of our own families, and many others in our situation.’

As well as areas such as the Isle of Man and Jersey considering on whether to legalise assisted dying – both of which are British Crown Dependencies – in Scotland, Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur is expected to introduce an assisted dying Bill to Holyrood later in the year.

However, the health and social care committee report, which was published today, claimed: ‘Although select committees usually make recommendations to government, in respect of [assisted dying] the government has made it clear that it will not take any steps towards legalising [assisted dying] but instead that this would be parliament’s role, should members wish to do so.’

The committee said: ‘The UK government must consider how to respond to another jurisdiction in the UK, or the Crown Dependencies, legislating to allow assisted dying/assisted suicide, and how it may impact jurisdictions which do not allow it.

‘Following the recommendation by the Jersey Citizens’ Assembly, it looks increasingly likely that at least one jurisdiction among the UK and Crown Dependencies will allow assisted dying/assisted suicide in the near future and ministers should be actively involved in discussions on how to approach the divergence in legislation.’

Health and social care committee chair, Steve Brine, said: ‘The inquiry on assisted dying and assisted suicide raised the most complex issues that we as a committee have faced, with strong feelings and opinions in the evidence we heard.

‘We intend the information and testimony we present in our report today to have a lasting legacy and, as we set out in the initial terms of reference, be a significant and useful resource for future debates on the issue.’

Image: Shutterstock

More on this topic:

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Government launches major national strategy to reduce number of tragic suicides

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