UK Government has no intention of reviewing assisted suicide law – Lord Chancellor

The Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC has confirmed that the UK Government has no intention of reviewing the UK’s assisted suicide law.

He also shared that personal “grave doubts” he has over the ability of any assisted suicide legislation to protect vulnerable people from unintended consequences and abuse stemming from a change in law.

The comments were made in response to a question asked by Congleton MP and member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Fiona Bruce, during a remote meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Fiona Bruce MP, who is also chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, had sought assurances from the Lord Chancellor that there would be no change in law after noting that people had “become more aware during this crisis of how precious every human life is.”

In his response, Mr Buckland said: “we [the Government] don’t currently have any plans to initiate a review of the law in this area or to indeed publish a call for evidence.”

Alluding to the attempts by activists to introduce assisted suicide legislation through the UK courts, he stated the issue of assisted suicide is a conscience issue for Parliament to decide rather than one for Court or Government.

In November, the High Court rejected a judicial review of the current law on assisted suicide, with judges stating the court was “not an appropriate forum for the discussion of the sanctity of life”. The Court of Appeal rejected an attempt to challenge this decision earlier this year.

Similarly, in 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that Parliament was a “better forum” than the courts for determining the issue of legalising assisted suicide.

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. 

Earlier this year, strong opposition from MPs resulted in the Government rejecting an earlier call for review on assisted suicide, despite the best efforts from large pressure groups in favour of assisted suicide.

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.

In addition to lobbying the Government and parliament, activists have been seeking to lobby medical bodies in the UK.

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

In a move welcomed by pro-life groups, the Royal College of Physicians recently released a statement on its website clarifying that it does not support a change in the law on assisted suicide. The clarification comes after the medical body changed its official stance on the matter to neutral last year.

The Royal College of General Practitioners announced in February that it will continue to oppose a change in law on assisted suicide, following a consultation of its 50,000 members.  

The BMA, which is currently opposed to assisted suicide, has launched its first-ever survey on the issue. The poll will ask their 160,000 members for their views “on whether the BMA should adopt a neutral position with respect to a change in the law on assisted dying”. The results of the British Medical Association survey will be revealed later this year.

Assisted suicide pressure group Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society), which spent over £1,600,000 last year, said in an email to supporters “that the poll is happening is a significant win” for their campaign. Meanwhile, a large group of palliative care doctors have written to The Times calling on the BMA to continue opposing the involvement of doctors and ensuring that assisted dying will not become a medical intervention in the UK.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: 

“Despite the best efforts of well-resourced assisted suicide activists, the Lord Chancellor’s statement is very clear and is particularly welcome during this current crisis.

“The concerns raised by a large number of MPs earlier this year highlighted just a small number of the reasons why the Government should look away from assisted suicide and instead fund better hospice and palliative care. 

“Any legislative change could place many vulnerable people at risk of abuse and put pressure on those with terminal and chronic illnesses and on the disabled to end their lives prematurely.

“Evidence from Oregon demonstrates how a so-called ‘right to die’ may become the ‘duty to die’. Feelings of being a burden were cited in 55% of Oregon and 56% of Washington assisted-suicide requests in 2017.

“This is especially the case when families and health budgets are under financial pressure, which makes the Canadian study which found that the legalisation of assisted suicide could save the health care system more than $138 million per year so alarming.

“Legalising assisted suicide would likely lead to pressure on vulnerable people to choose the quicker, cheaper option of death over palliative care.”