Peers decry ‘legislative cowardice’ in failure of UK Parliament to make assisted dying lawful

7 March, 2017

Baroness Meacher spoke in the debate.

Yesterday in the House of Lords a large number of peers contributed to a debate on assisted dying. A number of members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group delivered particularly passionate condemnations of Parliament’s failure to implement legislation enabling it. As an ardent advocate of its legalisation for the terminally ill and incurably suffering, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed this debate and hopes that it will galvanise further action on this vital issue.

Baroness Jay of Paddington, who raised the Question for Short Debate, called upon the Government and peers to recognise the increasingly compelling quality of the evidence in favour of assisted dying. Since the failure of a number of bills seeking to enable assisted dying a couple of years ago, Parliament has largely turned its back on the matter. During this time, however, the international landscape has evolved significantly, with Canada and multiple jurisdictions in the US including California having recently implemented similar laws enabling assisted dying. The debate follows on the heels of Germany’s highest court ruling in favour of assisted dying in the case of a paralysed woman who suffered from painful convulsions.

Members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) joined Baroness Jay in highlighting international developments and questioning why, therefore, the British government continues to err on the wrong side of history? APPHG Vice Chair Lord Warner forcefully denounced the ‘legislative cowardice’ surrounding this issue, which renders continued ‘human misery’ inevitable. Viscount Craigovon drew attention to the ‘uncontested figure of 80% plus’ support in this country for a legalisation.

Baroness Meacher also poignantly invoked the example of Noel Conway, who has launched a judicial review into the archaic ban on assisted dying in the UK. Noel, who has motor neurone disease, has pointed out that ‘without this option I could effectively become entombed in my own body’.

BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘This debate successfully spotlighted the inhumane nature of the UK’s assisted dying laws, putting terminally ill or incurably suffering individuals with having to face the choice of travelling to Switzerland, at significant financial and emotional cost, to seek an assisted death, perhaps before they would otherwise choose to do so, or go on suffering with the knowledge that at a later stage, their condition may have deteriorated such that such an option may no longer be available when it is needed.

‘We should also recognise that the current system puts doctors and the families of such individuals in an extremely difficult position. They have to decide whether or not to assist a patient or loved one who is begging for help, knowing that it is unlawful, or not to act and prolong their suffering. We do not believe that they should have to make these decisions. We will continue to campaign for the Government to act and endow patients of sound mind with the choice, dignity, and moral autonomy they deserve.’


For further comment or information please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 7324 3072.

Read the debate:

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns around 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.