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MPs Publish Report on Assisted Suicide Amidst Calls For Parliamentary Debate

A report carried out by the UK Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee on Assisted Dying/Assisted Suicide (AD/AS) has been published on Febraury 29th. The government has until April 29th to respond to the report’s findings. Conservative MP, Steve Brine, chaired the inquiry and stated, “Our aim for this report is for it to serve as a basis for discussion and debate in future Parliaments.” 

Recently there has been a bigger push for the legalisation of AD/AS in England and Wales, since broadcast journalist, Dame Esther Rantzen, launched a campaign to have the matter discussed in the House of Commons. A petition was launched in January, for “terminally ill people who are mentally sound and near the end of their lives” to “not suffer unbearably against their will,” and has already reached over 130,000 signatures of the required 100,000 it takes to be discussed in Parliament. Rantzen, 83, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and has registed with Dignitas, a Swiss organisation that provides physician-assisted suicide. Dignitas’ motto is ‘to live with dignity, to die with dignity,’ and nearly 350 British people have ended their lives with the organisation. 

Upon the publication of the Parliament report, Dame Esther has said it “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 the many others in our situation.” This inquiry isn’t the first time AD/AS has tried to be legalised in the UK however, the Assisted Dying Bill in 2015 didn’t even get past the second reading phase in the House of Commons, with 330 votes opposing the bill. Moreover, in 2009 an attempt was made to remove the threat of prosecution for those assisting terminal patients who are travelling to countries with legalised AD/AS embedded in the Coroners and Justice Act, but it was defeated. 

Currently, because of the Suicide Act of 1961, it is not illegal to commit or attempt to commit suicide anymore, but the act of encouraging or helping someone to end their own life is considered as a form of manslaughter or murder in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Meaning terminally ill patients in this vicinity would have to travel abroad to end their lives, which can be a costly endeavour. However, some of the British Isles like Jersey are closer to legalising Assisted Suicide. Assisted Dying is legal in several European countries, such as Switzerland, Austria, and The Netherlands as well as other parts of the world like in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and parts of the United States. In Italy and Germany, although the governments haven’t made it legal, the Courts have. Switzerland was the first country to legalise AD in 1942, which is when Dignitas was created. 

In 2014, it was found that 73 percent of the British public agreed with the legalisation of AD/AS, and it’s been found that the agreement statistic has remained consistently within 70 to 80 percent of those partaking in polls. The report found,a common theme across the evidence was the pursuit of the very best end of life care, and what many witnesses called “a good death”, where the person dying was cared for with compassion and high-quality care and provided with as much agency and choice as possible.” With the publication of this report in collation with Dame Esther’s petition, it is looking more likely that eventually the UK will legalise AD/AS.

Edited by Chloe Mansola

Image ‘hand in hand,hospice’ by pxhere licensed by CC0 1.0

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