The assisted dying inquiry, currently run by the Health and Social Care Committee, has completed its last evidence session with UK palliative care organisations, the Minister for Health and Social Care, and the Medical Director of NHS England. That means it will not have public oral evidence sessions with practising doctors outside of those in palliative care – the medical profession most dominated by religious interests and most likely to oppose a change in the law. Nor has it heard in this way from those who want an assisted death, from their loved ones, from nurses, from social workers, or from disabled people. Humanists UK is concerned that the exclusion of these groups will affect this vital report.
While these groups have had the chance to submit written evidence and some have been able to take part in an anonymised roundtable with the MPs on the Committee, they have been omitted from public oral evidence sessions.
One of the biggest changes since the 2015 House of Commons vote to uphold the ban on assisted dying is that the British Medical Association and all bar one Royal College have changed their position to one of neutrality. A survey by the Royal College of Surgeons recently revealed that six in ten surgeons personally support assisted dying. The British Medical Association dropped its opposition to assisted dying in 2021, after 59% of doctors said they believe adults with physical conditions causing intolerable suffering should be allowed help to die.
The final session included three palliative care doctors – two representing organisations neutral on assisted dying, and one heavily opposed – meaning the session was biased against assisted dying and assertions about it went unchecked. An example was that it was insinuated that legalising assisted dying could harm the palliative care workforce, when the international picture showed that palliative care provision has improved in countries that have introduced legislation.
Dr Matthew Doré, Honorary Secretary at the Association for Palliative Medicine openly opposes assisted dying. Doré signed an open letter opposing abortion in Northern Ireland, with the letter claiming: ‘It is the firmly held belief of many Christians in Northern Ireland that abortion is the unjust taking of human life – a violent act performed against creatures who are made in God’s image, in which He delights, and which therefore must be resisted by all lawful means.’ That said, when questioned by the Committee about his own association’s guidelines for the withdrawal of ventilation, an act quite similar ethically to assisted dying, Doré replied that he was unaware of the guidelines.
Humanists UK previously revealed that the Committee is considerably more religious than the public. Ten of the eleven members swore a Christian oath upon entering Parliament. Four have voted against assisted dying in the past and at least three of the members of the Committee have also voted against abortion rights, a stark contrast to the 86% of the public who support women’s abortion rights.
Helen Whately MP, Minister for Health and Social Care, told the inquiry: ‘Should the will of Parliament change, then Government won’t stand in its way’. She also told the Committee that she was not aware of any discussions about how the Government would react if Scotland, Jersey, or the Isle of Man introduce assisted dying legislation, but it would watch as the proposals progress.
The Committee has said the inquiry’s report is likely to be published by the end of the year.
Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell said:
‘It’s appalling that the Health and Social Care Committee will exclude so many key constituents from giving public oral evidence. Doctors, nurses, social care workers, and those who want an assisted death all have a tremendous amount of evidence to give. It is not only professionals involved in palliative care that will be involved in end-of-life care. We are deeply concerned about what this may mean for this inquiry.
‘Everyone should have the right to live their lives by their own personal values – this includes making decisions about our own deaths. Legalising assisted dying give individuals more dignity, more autonomy, and more choice, a fundamental staple of a good society.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell at email@example.com or phone 07456200033.
Read about the inquiry’s session on Switzerland.
Read about the inquiry’s session on Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada.
Read about the inquiry’s session on Australia, New Zealand, and America.
Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying in the UK.
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