The British Humanist Association (BHA) has issued a briefing to all MPs ahead of the second reading debate of the Assisted Dying Bill introduced into the House of Commons by Rob Marris MP, which is scheduled to take place on Friday.
The Bill follows a similar format to the Assisted Dying Bill introduced into the House of Lords by Lord Falconer in 2014, which was hampered by the Government’s refusal to give it sufficient time for consideration. Like that Bill, it would legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people who have less than six months to live, and contains a number of safeguards to prevent potential abuse. Currently, assisting a terminally or incurably suffering person to end their life is illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Under the current law, almost 300 British patients have opted to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland to have an assisted death since 2002. One such patient, Bob Cole, recently used his final day to call on MPs to support a change in the law, saying ‘I should be able to die with dignity in my own country, in my own bed.’
The BHA’s position on assisted dying has long been that those who have made a clear decision, free from coercion, to end their lives and who are physically unable to do so themselves should have the right to an assisted death. Consequently, the BHA has urged MPs to vote in favour the Bill due before parliament, while pointing out that it does not address those who are incurably suffering but not terminally ill. This means that individuals such as Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, who the BHA has supported in court, would not be helped by the legislation. The BHA has argued that there is no strong moral case to make this distinction and is supported by the majority of the public on the matter, as around 80% of the population believe that both the terminally ill and the incurably suffering should be permitted the right to die.
A group of religious leaders intervened over the weekend in an effort to urge MPs to vote against the Bill, despite the fact that a majority of people of faith also support the legislation. Other high profile religious figures, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, have previously come out in support of the Bill. Further interventions in favour of the Bill include an article by the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer MP, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, who was previously responsible for drawing up guidelines for the prosecution of assisted suicide cases. Writing in The Times, he said it was ‘impossible to justify continuing the injustice inherent in the current arrangements’ and described the safeguards within the Bill as ‘strong and robust.’ Elsewhere, medical journal The Lancet broke its silence on the issue, saying that ‘blindly resisting all efforts to meet the expectations of the terminally ill seems more about ideological (or religious) purity than high-quality health care.’
Speaking ahead of Friday’s debate, BHA Director of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal said, ‘We believe that individuals who are of sound mind but terminally ill or incurably suffering should have the option to end their lives in a manner of their choosing. This position is supported by the vast majority of the public, who realise that too many individuals currently face needlessly cruel deaths against their clear and settled wishes. We support the Bill on the basis of the greater autonomy it would grant to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live. We only wish this same compassion could be extended to those who suffer in the same way and seek the same degree of choice over when to end their life, but are not terminally ill. We have campaigned vigorously in support of individuals like Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, and will continue to fight for a society in which both the terminally ill and incurably suffering are allowed to decide upon end of life decisions for themselves.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Campaigns and Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07738435059.
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on assisted dying: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.