The Assisted Dying Inquiry Report | Everything you need to know

7 March, 2024

The Health and Social Care Committee’s inquiry into assisted dying in Parliament has published its big report, Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stillwell shares everything important that you need to know about it.

What was the assisted dying inquiry?

The Health and Social Care Committee launched an inquiry into assisted dying in January 2023. They’re a group of MPs from all parties, led by the Conservative MP Steve Brine. We’ve got a handy summary of everything that was said in the evidence they gathered.

The main findings

The inquiry could have directly recommended a change in the law, as the Republic of Ireland’s committee have just done. Inquiries often recommend law changes, but this one didn’t, it stopped short of making any direct call for or against assisted dying. 

We, along with many of the people affected by the current law, were disappointed that it didn’t take the necessary leap to recommend that our law be changed. However, the report summarised some of the evidence about assisted dying – which should hopefully inform the next parliament when they vote on this issue.

Here are some of the key findings.

Palliative care is improved by assisted dying

In black and white, in clear and understandable language, on page 53 the report says: 

‘In the evidence we received, we did not see any indications of palliative and end-of-life care deteriorating in quality or provision following the introduction [of assisted dying]; indeed the introduction of [assisted dying] has been linked with an improvement in palliative care in several jurisdictions.

Incredulously, we’ve already seen opponents of assisted dying try to refute this or claim the exact opposite. But it’s clearly thereread it for yourself.

In addition, the report mentioned many people’s desire for what they called ‘a good death’ – which was often quoted as ‘where the person dying was cared for with compassion and high-quality care and provided with as much agency and choice as possible.

The fact that the introduction of assisted dying can lead to improvements in palliative care was one of the committee’s key findings in their visit to the US state of Oregon. In Australia, where they legalised assisted dying, they essentially came to the same conclusion. Palliative Care Australia – the peak palliative care organisation in Australia – outlined how it had initially opposed assisted dying legislation but after extensive research it concluded resoundingly that assisted dying legislation leads to improved palliative care.

Why is this important? Well, it’s one of the core arguments used against legalising assisted dying and it can finally be set aside. There are people who may have been inclined to support assisted dying, but who also deeply care about the hospice movement and end-of-life care and they were worried that legalising assisted dying may hurt palliative care. Hopefully, these people will be reassured by this evidence. 

The current law is messy

This is a point we’ve been talking about for a long time. The current status quo is harmful and the law needs to change. One of our celebrants, Sue Lawford was arrested at 5.30 am, put in a cell and held for 19 hours, and then subjected to a six-month police investigation, for escorting a woman to receive a medically assisted death in Switzerland. 

The report highlights that during the first evidence session, the committee heard evidence from Lord Falconer, who said:

‘Where we have got with the law now is such a mess. We allow people to go to Switzerland. We allow people to be helped to go to Switzerland. We investigate their loved ones when they come back, which is a hellish experience. The law is such a mess. I don’t think I have met anybody who does not think that.’ 

Page 13, paragraph 38 supports this conclusion, stating in bold that:

A view put forward by some who have provided evidence to us was that the current state of the law is unclear.’

Existing law is even messier when it comes to doctors

The report also clearly outlines that the law gets even more messy concerning doctors who provide supporting documents for people going to Switzerland for assisted death. The report claims that the General Medical Council’s advice essentially says it is legal to give patients their own records under the Data Protection Act 1998, but the British Medical Association guidance recommends that doctors do not give out medical reports for people wanting an assisted death.

In paragraph 40, the assisted dying report concludes:

‘Although it is not illegal to provide medical reports in this circumstance, it does not seem to be entirely clear to doctors what they are allowed to do. We would welcome revised guidance from the GMC and the BMA enabling doctors to assist their patients.’

However, the BMA and GMC have already written back to the committee regarding this, claiming there’s an important distinction between giving a patient their medical records and writing a report specifically for a patient to access assisted dying overseas.

The subtext here is that the BMA is claiming the parliamentary committee doesn’t understand the law.

But the truth is, the law is unclear. What constitutes ‘assisting’ a suicide has never been defined, and doctors are clearly needing guidance to carry out their duties.

The report agreed with us that conscientious objection is important

Talking of doctors, we have always been fully committed to freedom of conscience, belief and expression. Humanists UK strives to create a society where human rights are valued and where there is equality before the law. We made the case to the inquiry and they listened, quoting us on this topic in their report.

Page 64, paragraph 189 of the report, says the committee heard our evidence that ‘a decision to participate should be freely taken by the individual healthcare professional and never imposed on them’.

However, this right must not be abused to allow people with religious convictions to block people who meet the criteria from having an assisted death. We’ve already seen in countries that have legalised assisted dying attempts by religious institutions to block or obstruct assisted deaths. British Columbia’s health ministry was forced to instruct a Catholic hospital (that still receives most of its funding from the state) to allow assisted deaths on the property after they blocked assisted deaths and forced dying patients to be transferred.

On such occasions, an individual’s freedom of conscience must be just that, for the individual, not an organisation or a medical setting. An individual’s right to conscientious objection must be respected, but cannot override the rights of others.

The MPs on the committee disagreed with each other

There wasn’t a consensus on the committee. Very early on in the inquiry, Humanists UK expressed some concern about the composition of the Committee as seven of the 11 members have previously opposed assisted dying.

Efforts were made by Committee members (see p. 118) to have the report call for the Government to secure time for the next parliament to have a full debate on assisted dying and to note that ‘the evidence we heard from other jurisdictions has shown that assisted dying can be introduced safely and successfully’. This was voted down by 3-2 votes.

Another paragraph of the report (119) was amended to remove the Committee concluding that our prohibitive law means that assisted dying is available for those who can pay to travel abroad for an assisted death. This was overturned by 3-2 votes.

A call for the Government to commission a review of the impact of existing assisted dying legislation while maintaining a neutral position was refused by 4-2 votes (p. 120).

The three MPs that consistently blocked all of these proposals had voted against assisted dying back in 2015. 

Assisted dying law may soon diverge across British Isles

One of the report’s recommendations that caught the most headlines was that the government will need to act on this matter, whether it likes it or not.

Page 23 of the report said:

‘It looks increasingly likely that at least one jurisdiction among the UK and crown dependencies will allow [assisted dying] in the near future and ministers should be actively involved in discussions about how to approach the divergence in legislation.’

In Jersey, a Citizens’ Jury voted in favour of assisted dying for the terminally ill and people experiencing unbearable suffering. The States Assembly voted in favour of assisted dying ‘in principle’ and a debate on the law is expected this year.

On the Isle of Man, an assisted dying bill passed its second reading with 17 votes to 7, and the bill could be passed this year. Scotland, a bill on assisted dying is expected to be introduced soon, after a bill received backing from 36 MSPs – over a quarter of members. This means that our politicians in Westminster must address this issue.


This report set out some of the key evidence in the debate and essentially it is now up for parliament to get on with it. The majority of the public wants to see change on this issue. The inquiry wasn’t perfect, and if you want more information about what went well and what didn’t, check out our previous summary

But overall, none of the report’s conclusions (skip to page 95) should give politicians any reason not to legislate on this issue. Indeed many countries around the world have had assisted dying for decades and this report shows that it’s safe and compassionate. People deserve the right to choose, and it’s about time that Parliament let them. 


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Assisted Dying Campaigner Nathan Stilwell at or phone 07456 200033.

If you have been affected by the current assisted dying legislation, and want to use your story to support a change in the law, please email

Read six reasons we need an assisted dying law.

Read more about our campaign to legalise assisted dying in the UK.

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