Last week, it was reported that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had written to the Office of National Statistic (ONS), to ask for data on how many suicides are undertaken by Britons with terminal medical conditions.
Hancock revealed to a private meeting of MPs and peers last week that he wanted to obtain these figures as a step towards renewing the debate on legalising doctor-assisted suicide. A Department of Health spokesman officially added that the Minister had requested the ONS data “to inform Parliament’s debate on the issue”.
However, a senior source at the Ministry of Justice has told The Sunday Telegraph that Ministers will not consult or issue a call for evidence on relaxing assisted suicide laws.
Minister for Justice Robert Buckland, himself, is reportedly in favour of current legal guidance on the issue. The source added: “You don’t see loving couples ending with the surviving member of the couple going to court. That does not happen”.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide
All forms of assisted suicide remain illegal in the United Kingdom, and doctors found to be assisting a suicide can be jailed for up to 14 years, under the Suicide Act 1961.
Euthanasia is currently legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, while assisted suicide is permitted in Switzerland.
Euthanasia for terminally-ill people will become legal in New Zealand this November after a referendum last year. Euthanasia is defined as the act of ”intentionally ending a life to relieve suffering”, while assisted suicide describes all forms of intentional assisted death.
As Danny Kruger MP highlighted in an opinion piece the previous week, “Laws [in Belgium and the Netherlands, and Canada] which were supposed to limit euthanasia to mentally competent terminally ill adults now allow the euthanasia of non-mentally competent adults, disabled children aged under 12 months, disabled adults, and even those with treatable psychiatric problems”.
The future for assisted suicide in Britain
As opponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia have consistently argued, laws that permit assisted suicide or euthanasia in restricted circumstances often quickly expand to permit state-sanctioned assisted suicide for other categories of people too.
Former Conservative Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell MP, a long-time campaigner for assisted suicide, is leading a group of MPs who want the Government to allow a free vote on the issue as early as 2024.
The group is scheduled to host a further meeting with Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the coming weeks.
Last week, a Ballot Bill on Assisted Dying was last week allocated seventh place in line to be debated, and will be introduced to the House of Lords on 26 May 26th. However it is not certain that the Bill will reach the House of Commons.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “At a time when the Government claims to be so occupied with saving lives, it is startling that its Health Secretary has seen fit to begin a renewed push for assisted death, despite the constant previous rejection of a change in the law, as recently as 2015. The formation of the APPG for Dying Well last month has clearly come at just the right time”.
“As the APPG Chair, Danny Kruger, has already pointed out, this legislation almost always expands, and thus places some of the most vulnerable members of society in a position at risk of being pressured into their own death”.