The Government has announced it has no plans to review the law on assisted suicide or to issue a call for evidence.
In response to a Parliamentary question, the Government announced that “any change to the law in this area must be for individual Parliamentarians to consider as an issue of conscience, rather than a decision for Government”.
The announcement came after a question from assisted suicide supporter, Andrew Mitchell MP.
Assisted suicide campaigners have been putting pressure on the Government to undertake a review of the current law on assisted suicide.
The Government’s response is consistent with the continued Parliamentary rejection of assisted suicide legislation at the beginning of this year.
Through the courts
Parliament has consistently rejected attempts by the assisted suicide lobby to introduce assisted suicide. The Marris-Falconer Bill was defeated in 2015, with 330 to 118 voting against introducing assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide supporters have since attempted to pass assisted suicide legislation through the courts. All such attempts have so far failed. Last year, the high court said the courts were not the place to decide moral issues. In a ruling concerning a man with motor neurone disease who wanted to be assisted in suicide, the court said: “In our judgment the courts are not the venue for arguments that have failed to convince parliament”.
Similarly, at the beginning of this year, the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC confirmed the Government has “no plans” to introduce assisted suicide legislation.
Support among Parliament, the courts and doctors for changes in assisted suicide legislation, which protects the most vulnerable, remain low. A recent BMA survey found that 84% of doctors in palliative medicine would not be willing to perform euthanasia on a patient should the law ever change.
Pushing the boundaries
Calls for the legalisation of assisted suicide come at the same time as a global pandemic and lockdowns, which are having an adverse effect on many people’s mental health. In October of this year in Canada, a 90-year-old woman was euthanised because she said she couldn’t cope with another lockdown.
Countries, like Canada, which have already legalised the practice, reveal that the motivations for assisted suicide are largely social and not medical. For example, in 2019 Canada reported that more than a third (34%) of those who opted for “medical assistance in dying” cited concerns of being a burden to family or carers. A further 13.7% cited “isolation or loneliness” as their reason for procuring an assisted suicide.
While proposed changes to assisted suicide legislation would likely not permit an assisted suicide under these circumstances, other countries which have introduced supposedly restricted assisted suicide and euthanasia legislation, have seen an expansion of their laws as medical professionals and activists push the boundaries of acceptable practice.
Euthanasia has been legal in the Netherlands since 2002. The law permits voluntary euthanasia for anyone over the age of 16, and children aged 13-15 can be euthanised with their parents’ consent. Earlier this year, the Dutch government said it would be changing the regulations to allow doctors to end the lives of terminally ill children between the ages of one and twelve.
Non-voluntary euthanasia is already available for Dutch babies before the age of one.
Right To Life UK’s spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said, “This latest Government rejection of calls to change the law on assisted suicide is welcome news. Throughout the COVID-19 restrictions, many people are suffering and sadly, some have ended their own lives. To introduce assisted suicide in England and Wales at this time would have particularly disastrous consequences for the most vulnerable in our society”.