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MPs debate inquiry into assisted dying as humanist MPs show support

MPs have debated proposals calling for an independent inquiry into the UK’s prohibitive law on assisted dying. Humanists UK welcomed the Commons debate, briefing members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) ahead of the debate.

Introducing the Westminster Hall debate, Christine Jardine MP called upon the Secretary of State for Justice to initiate an inquiry into assisted dying which is rational and evidence-based – saying that the current law had created a two-tier system within the UK and denied compassion to those unable to afford the costs of travelling abroad to die.

Although a minority of MPs challenged the move, a majority supported the case. Introducing herself as a humanist, new MP Rachel Hopkins said she believed people deserved the right to autonomy over how they lived their lives. She spoke about the case of Diane Pretty which had demonstrated the ‘glaring failure of the current legislation’ and ‘creates an ultimatum whereby law-abiding people have to choose between supporting those they love and following the law’.

Among other MPs who also spoke in support of assisted dying, APPHG member Karin Smyth highlighted concerns that the current law could be abused and that the best way to protect both the incurably suffering and terminally ill would be through an open, transparent, and safeguarded system.

The latest development internationally for a change in the law came from Western Australia’s move last year to legalise assisted dying for adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or suffer from incurable degenerative conditions.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:

‘We welcome this debate and the move to consider holding an independent inquiry into assisted dying in the future. In the half-decade since MPs last considered this issue, there has been a seachange in the evidence available and several progressive countries have changed their laws – proving that a balance between respecting autonomy and stringent safeguards can be struck.

‘The right to choose how, where, and when we die is essential because it speaks to the fundamental human right of autonomy. Parliament is seriously out of step with public attitudes on this issue, as more than 90% of the public now support changing the law. Despite what a minority may think, adults of sound mind but who are incurably suffering or terminally ill deserve to be treated with compassion, empathy, and respect and sadly this won’t be possible until the law changes’.

NOTES

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.

Read a transcript of the debate. 

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for assisted dying reform. 

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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