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Patrons setting the record straight.

The Church Times reported that MPs had voted down an ‘assisted suicide proposal’, and in testament to our Patrons passion and commitment, Reverend Professor Paul Badham responded with the letter below, published in last week’s edition.


I regret that your brief news report on the Parliamentary debate last week was seriously misleading. It stated that MPs had voted down an “assisted suicide proposal”. There was no such proposal. Rather, Richard Ottaway MP asked MPs to endorse the guidelines of the Director of Public Prosecutions. They did so unanimously.

The guidelines say that prosecution is unlikely if the dying person had a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide” and if the person who lent assistance was “wholly motivated by compassion”. Since the guidelines were issued, no one has been prosecuted; but it was thought desirable to know the mind of the House of Commons on this issue.

The debate showed Parliament at its best. Speeches from all sides were informed and compassionate. Although MPs had different views on the desirability of assisted dying, even those most opposed believed that prosecution leading to fourteen years imprisonment was wholly inappropriate in situations where a person had reluctantly agreed to help a loved one to die.

Dame Joan Ruddock had initially proposed an amendment seeking to put the guidelines on a statutory footing; but in the light of the spirit of the debate, she withdrew her amendment. Fiona Bruce MP proposed an amendment to encourage the further development of palliative care, which all supported. The final text “Welcomes the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Guidelines in respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide and encourages further development of specialist palliative care and hospice provision.”

Paul Badham

Department of Theology

University of Wales Trinity Saint David

See also:

MPs back assisted dying guidelines – BBC News, 27 March 2012

Read the official Hansard of the debate (starts col. 1363).

Respectful debate concludes with sensible outcome – Jo Cartwright, 28 March 2012