The House of Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee looks poised to launch an inquiry into assisted dying in the new year, following comments from the committee’s chair, Steve Brine MP. In a recent update to his constituents, he said to ‘look out for what will be a high profile piece of work on assisted dying/suicide in the New Year.’ Humanists UK would welcome such an inquiry and hopes to work constructively with the Committee.
There hasn’t been an inquiry into assisted dying since 2004. Back then, only 38 million people around the world lived in jurisdictions where assisted dying was legal, namely Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the US state of Oregon. Since then, it has increased ninefold to more than 360 million people, with Spain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Austria all legalising assisted dying.
Public and professional opinion have also changed considerably. 90 per cent of British adults now favour a change in the law. The British Medical Association and the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Nursing both opposed a change in the law in 2004 but both have since re-evaluated their stance and changed their position to neutrality.
There are predominantly two types of assisted dying law internationally. In US states, Australia, and New Zealand assisted dying is only available to people with terminal illnesses. Elsewhere, such as in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, and Canada, assisted dying is also legal for people who are incurably, intolerably suffering, but not necessarily terminally ill. People like Tony Nicklinson, who suffered from locked-in syndrome, or some people with degenerative conditions, would fall into this second category. Humanists UK volunteer Sue Lawford was recently arrested and investigated for accompanying a tetraplegic woman to Dignitas in Switzerland. Humanists UK believes that an inquiry should look at both models.
Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell said:
‘An inquiry into assisted dying would be welcome news. It would be refreshing to see politicians grasp the nettle and move this vital issue forward – it takes bravery to tackle social issues head-on but people who are suffering at the end of their lives desperately want to see progress.
‘People who are terminally ill or incurably suffering deserve the right to make choices at the end of their lives. Assisted dying has always been an issue of freedom and autonomy. But politicians need to examine the evidence, from both at home and abroad, in order to make an informed decision on this vital issue. A parliamentary inquiry would move the debate forward.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at email@example.com or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying in the UK.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.