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Health Secretary calls for ‘high quality public debate’ on assisted dying

Credit: No 10, Licenced under Creative Commons 2.0, https://bit.ly/3dUV4tp

UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock MP has told parliamentarians that the facts underpinning the assisted dying debate need to be ‘properly addressed and published’. Speaking at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Choice At the End of Life, he revealed that he has recently written to the UK’s Chief Statistician asking for more data on the number of people in England and Wales who end their lives after being diagnosed with a terminal medical condition. Humanists UK has welcomed the announcement as a cautious step forward in the assisted dying debate.

Mr Hancock said he hoped additional data from the Office for National Statistics on suicide would produce an ‘independent and impartial set of facts on which we can then have a discussion’, and ‘shed more light on the data of those travelling to Switzerland in order to die at a time of their choosing’. He also stressed that another ‘important part of the discussion’ was for lawmakers to listen to those with personal testimony, as ‘people at the end of their lives don’t always have the strongest voices’.

Asked about his thoughts on proposals to introduce a Bill to legalise assisted dying specifically for those with six months left to live, he said wanted to make sure the evidence was in place first for a proper debate, and that he would want to consider how such proposals would work in practice.

The news follows shortly after a cross party group of 50+ MPs and peers called for the Government to instigate a review of the UK’s laws on assisted dying, in a letter organised by Humanists UK and their partners in the Assisted Dying Coalition, My Death, My Decision.

Humanists UK’s Assisted Dying Campaigner Keiron McCabe said: 

‘By calling for the release of more data from the Office of National Statistics, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has gone further than any of his colleagues before in helping to advance the assisted dying debate. But crucially he has stopped short of instigating the full and frank inquiry those who are terminally ill or incurably suffering require.

‘Since 2015, when the matter was last seriously debated in Parliament, there has been a profound change in support for the legalisation of assisted dying, and in the evidence available for MPs to assess the case for reform. Public opinion has risen to nine in ten people favouring a change in the law, half of all doctors have come to personally back reform, and almost every major disability organisation has adopted a neutral stance on legislation. Abroad more than 250 million people have gained a right to die, and new evidence has emerged demonstrating that effective safeguards can be balanced alongside compassionate choices. We share the Health Secretary’s belief that a public debate in this field should be informed by the best statistics available and the testimony of those with personal experience – but this can only be accomplished through a full and independent inquiry. We urge lawmakers not to let this vitally important issue slip from the agenda, and to instigate an inquiry immediately.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Watch the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life Meeting.

Read more about our work on assisted dying. 

Read more about the open letter signed by 50+ MPs and peers, organised by Humanists UK, calling for an inquiry into the law on assisted dying. 

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