Government rejects call for a review into assisted suicide, after strong opposition from MPs

Strong opposition from MPs has resulted in the Government rejecting calls for a review on assisted suicide despite the best efforts from large pressure groups in favour of assisted suicide.

This follows the news that an attempt to introduce assisted suicide to the Isle of Man has failed

MPs received thousands of emails from constituents ahead of the debate urging them to attend and speak in opposition to the assisted suicide lobby’s campaign.

A large turnout of MPs, including Sir Desmond Swayne, Sir John Hayes, Fiona Bruce, Dr Lisa Cameron, Andrew Selous and Martin Vickers spoke strongly against assisted suicide in the debate. 

Fiona Bruce, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, said disability groups are “extremely concerned” about what has happened in other countries that have introduced assisted suicide legislation. 

She noted that in the US State of Oregon the majority of those applying for assisted suicide now cite “fear of being a burden” as their major end-of-life concern. Adding that “far fewer cite pain concerns.” 

In Canada, “under the 2016 law that has allowed terminally ill people to request assisted suicide and euthanasia, safeguards have been ignored, removed and extended to non-terminally ill people such as those with depression.”

“In July a depressed but otherwise healthy man was killed by lethal injection, despite not being terminally ill. Another man who suffers from a neurological disease actually recorded hospital staff offering him a medically assisted death, despite repeated statements that he did not want to die. 

“Only this week, on Tuesday, there was an article in The Times about three Belgian doctors on trial in relation to the euthanasia of someone reported to have a personality disorder and autism. The family believes that she was depressed but that she did not, as required by Belgian law, have a serious and incurable disorder.”

In these cases, she said: “The point to note is that, regardless of the wording of eligibility criteria in legislation, in practice safeguards are often discarded, and vulnerable and depressed people are assisted to end their lives.”

“Rather than assisting vulnerable people to commit suicide, or administering euthanasia, we should be looking to improve palliative care provision and mental health treatment… Marie Curie estimates that 25% of cancer patients do not currently get the palliative care that they need.”

Rounding off her speech, she exclaimed: “The UK is a pioneer in palliative medicine and a world leader in palliative care. Let us keep it that way!”

A large number of MPs mirrored Fiona’s call for improved mental-health and palliative care, over the introduction of an extreme assisted suicide law, in a renewed effort to assist people to live. 

Dr Lisa Cameron, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Disability, said: “Often, when people face debilitating illness or very difficult life events, suicide may come to their minds. Does she agree that at such times, we should provide better mental health support, psychological support and counselling to enable people to come to terms with their feelings and look much more positively towards their abilities and the contribution they make?” 

Expressing his concerns about a potential review into the law on assisted suicide, Jim Shannon argued: “The answer is not legalising assisted suicide. The answer is to help, to support and to be compassionate towards families. Does she acknowledge the good work that is done by many charities, particularly Macmillan, whose compassion and love make the unimaginable a little bit more bearable?”

His fellow DUP colleague, Ian Paisley, continued this point by saying: “We should be asking the positive, strong question: how much palliative care and support can we give people at the greatest point of need?”

He added: “We parliamentarians should be prepared to offer hope to people, not to say, as others have said, ‘You’re now a burden. It’s time to shuffle off this mortal coil.’” 

Baroness Finlay has introduced an Access to Palliative Care and Treatment of Children Bill to the House of Lords. This bill aims to highlight the necessity of speciality training for palliative care; to ensure that children, babies, and those with learning disabilities receive palliative care; and, the responsibility of Clinical Commissioning Groups to identify, fund support and provide services to those with palliative care needs.

Other concerns raised by MPs included the change it would bring in the relationship between a doctor and a patient. 

Martin Vickers MP said the relationship between a doctor and patient is one the UK should treasure. “Rather than opening the door to assisting us to die, patients—all of us—need to have confidence that our medical professionals are striving to keep us in good health and alive,” he added.

Extending this point, Sir Desmond Swayne MP noted the large number of assisted suicide deaths in the Netherlands and asked wether we are prepared to “fundamentally change the nature of the medical profession, when the clinician who brings healing is also the clinician who brings death?”

Another argument made by MPs was the valuation of life, and how legalising assisted suicide would fundamentally change how we value life as a society. Making this point was Sir John Hayes MP who said: “Although life, as I have described it, is momentary, each moment is precious. The life of profoundly disabled people is precious, and the life of those weak, wizened, sick and infirm people is precious.”

Highlighting how the valuation of life would change, Andrew Selous MP said: “We need to be very careful to ensure that old and sick people do not feel a pressure to end their lives, perhaps from their children, who might want to inherit their assets and to whom they may feel they are being a burden.”

Not a single doctors group or major disability rights organisation in the UK supports changing the law, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Geriatric Society and the Association for Palliative Medicine.    

Parliament has consistently rejected attempts by the assisted suicide lobby to introduce assisted suicide, with 330 to 118 voting against introducing assisted suicide in 2015. 

Assisted suicide pressure groups cite a poll that shows there is widespread support for legislation of assisted suicide, yet experts have heavily criticised the polling as deeply flawed. In fact, when asked questions that drill down into the merits of the debate, the percentage of those in support drops dramatically.

Government recognises large numbers of pro-life voices during debate on proposed abortion framework in Northern Ireland

A number of pro-life MPs from across the political spectrum have expressed their dismay that Westminster is continuing with its plans to impose an extreme abortion law on Northern Ireland. 

The debate, which took place in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening, heard politicians rally in defence of unborn children, to respect devolution in Northern Ireland and to reverse Westminster’s extreme abortion regime imposed upon Northern Ireland.

Opening the debate, in place of Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, a Minister for Northern Ireland and Conservative MP Robin Walker said: “the Government are working towards the laying of regulations for a new legal framework for the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland, as required by the 2019 Act.” 

He confirmed the new framework will be in force by 31 March 2020.

However, a number of MPs have expressed deep concern that the proposed legislation goes far beyond what the Government was required to do by the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 and could lead to abortion, for any reason, up to 24 weeks.

Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said she was deeply concerned by the width and breadth of the consultation raising concerns in her mind about possible changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland going much further than anticipated.

She added: “I am deeply concerned that the abortion framework that may be proposed by the Northern Ireland Office might go far beyond those three circumstances. For example, it may allow for access to abortion on request for any reason up to 12 weeks’ gestation, and then up to 24 weeks.”

Fiona Bruce also revealed that a number of clinicians in Northern Ireland are deeply concerned about their right to ​conscientiously object to engagement in abortion treatment procedures, and may not be given the same protections they have in England and Wales.

DUP MP Jim Shannon echoed Fiona Bruce’s concerns – that the proposed changes to abortion law in Northern Ireland go further than required, quoting the expert legal opinion of David Scoffield QC which stated:

“The question posed to me is essentially whether, if the… Secretary of State… determined to do no more than necessary to comply with his strict legal obligations under the 2019 Act, the proposals set out in the consultation go beyond this… I consider it to be relatively simple to conclude that the answer to this question is ‘yes’.”

Jim Shannon then asked the Northern Ireland Office to reconsider their “radical proposals”, saying they “constitute a clear political choice on the part of the NIO to undermine devolution to a greater extent than the 2017 to 2019 Parliament required…, which would effectively lead to abortion on request for any reason between 12 or 14 weeks’ and 22 or 24 weeks’ gestation.”

Under one of the proposed options being consulted on, abortion could be available for any reason, up to birth, for babies with Down’s syndrome, cleft lip, club foot and other perceived disabilities.

Dr Lisa Cameron, who received hundreds of abusive messages and a threat of deselection for voting against imposing extreme abortion legislation in Northern Ireland, raised concerns from the Don’t Screen Us Out community, who are particularly concerned about the scope of the regulations and the impact on families with Down’s syndrome children.

“I hope that the Minister will comment on whether there has been consultation with that group [Don’t Screen Us Out], because, as I am sure the hon. Lady would agree, that would be very helpful.”

In her maiden speech in the House of Commons, DUP MP Carla Lockhart defended the right to life of unborn babies and called for the Government to respect devolution in Northern Ireland.

“I want a society in Northern Ireland that values life, and I want to see services that will help women choose life. We want to see a perinatal palliative care centre, a maternal mental health unit and better childcare services, and that is my ask of this Government. Help us create a culture of choosing life, as opposed to killing an innocent little baby that does not have the voice to say, ’No, mummy!’

“It is incomprehensible that the Government, knowing that abortion was a devolved matter, have published consultation proposals to introduce changes that go far beyond what has actually been required by Parliament.”

However, Alliance MP Stephen Farry stated he was “content” that Westminster had ignored devolution and imposed extreme legislation on Northern Ireland.

Labour MP Tony Lloyd seemed to agree with the sentiment saying: “if the Assembly were to legislate contrary to the UK Government’s establishment of a process for safe and legal abortion, our efforts would have been futile.”

Closing the debate, Robin Walker, stated how, in the previous debate on Northern Ireland, he was “getting beaten up very heavily by pro-choice colleagues on the Opposition Benches,” yet, “on this occasion, perhaps the voice was slightly louder from the pro-life people, who I am happy to meet to try to address their concerns further, to ensure that we take this forward in the best possible way and in a way that is respectful of the concerns in the community in Northern Ireland and more widely.”

Scottish politician could be removed from SNP election list after abortion row earlier this year

A MP for the Scottish National Party fears her opposition to lifting Northern Ireland’s abortion ban is the reason why she is the only party member who has not been approved to stand again, should there be a snap general election.

Lisa Cameron MP’s political future is in doubt as SNP members were emailed by party chairman, Angus MacLeod, on whether they want sitting MPs to fight a probable November poll or whether an internal selection should take place.

The party has since reselected 34 out of 35 MPs, but Lisa Cameron has not been placed on the SNP’s list of approved candidates.

In July, the former doctor voted against an amendment which would force abortion on Northern Ireland. While the matter was a free vote, for individuals to decide how to vote in line with their own conscience, the First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, made clear that she supported abortion.

MPs voted in favour of the abortion amendment 332-99 which was attached to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, ignoring the fact that abortion remains a devolved issue in Northern Ireland.

Dr Cameron has cited that her tragic experience of undergoing two very late-term miscarriages helped form her pro-life views.

She also revealed her office received more than 900 messages, including “abuse” and “cyberbullying” after she voted against the amendment.

She said: “It was a free vote, a conscience vote. I didn’t rebel or vote against the party whip. And yet now it’s virtually certain that abusive party activists will make sure I’m deselected and lose the job I love.”

“The attacks on me have been nothing less than vitriolic. One individual threatened to come over and ‘abort me’.”

Dr Cameron confirms she intends to stand. An SNP spokesperson said that the party’s selection processes were ongoing.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said:

“It is disgraceful that this MP should face deselection and receive such abuse for voting to protect unborn babies and in favour of not imposing abortion, which is a devolved matter, on Northern Ireland.”

“If she is deselected from the SNP, it would show the intolerance of pro-life views and those who respect and wish to defend the right to life of all human beings, born or unborn,  within the party.”

Scottish MP who opposed NI abortion amendment receives hundreds of abusive messages and fears deselection

An MP for the Scottish National Party, Lisa Cameron, is concerned she will be deselected by her party after voting against an amendment which would force abortion on Northern Ireland.

The abortion amendment was attached to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill and 332 MPs voted in favour of undermining the sovereignty of Northern Ireland, by usurping its devolved powers to impose abortion law from Westminster.

Scotland has its own devolved powers so the SNP typically make a point of abstaining on matters which relate to the devolved powers of other regions in the UK.

However, in an unusual move, the party abandoned its own principles and allowed a vote for its members on these amendments. Now, SNP MPs who voted in favour of Northern Ireland retaining its devolved abortion powers, are concerned they will lose their position in the party.

Lisa Cameron MP said her office had received more than 900 messages, including “abuse” and “cyberbullying” after she voted against the amendment.

She said she had informed the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, but had not yet received any response from the SNP leader.

Dr Cameron and her party colleague, Peter Grant, both voted against undermining devolution and forcing abortion on Northern Ireland. 

While the matter was a free vote, for individuals to decide how to vote in line with their own conscience, Nicola Sturgeon made clear that she supported abortion.

Dr Cameron fears she will be stopped from standing again for the seat she first won in 2015.

Cameron said: “It was a free vote, a conscience vote. I didn’t rebel or vote against the party whip. And yet now it’s virtually certain that abusive party activists will make sure I’m deselected and lose the job I love.”

The MP added: “The attacks on me have been nothing less than vitriolic. One individual threatened to come over and ‘abort me’.”

“But I am sad to say that I have as yet received no response. I hope I will receive support from the party hierarchy soon. I’m getting all this abuse but no one in the party will call out the abusers. In a few short days, my life has been turned on its head and it looks like I will be ousted. The situation is very serious.”

She has also written to SNP MP Patrick Grady, who is the party’s chief whip at Westminster, who confirmed to her “a free vote was in place in order that members could vote with their conscience, and that the reason conscience votes exist is for areas where there can’t be a defined party policy”.

Northern Ireland continues to have strong legal protections for unborn babies and 100,00 people are now alive in the region because the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply there.

Clare McCarthy from Right To Life UK said:

“It is disgraceful that this MP should receive such abuse for voting in favour of keeping normal democratic processes in Northern Ireland and respecting devolution.”

“If she is deselected from the SNP, it not only shows how far the party has completely bought into the abortion ideology, but also raises questions about what exactly the point of a free vote is. A vote is hardly ‘free’ if voting the ‘wrong’ way gets you kicked out of the party.”