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Majority of those surveyed believe a family member or friend should not be prosecuted if they enable or assist a terminally ill but mentally competent adult to travel abroad to die

Lord Falconer’s amendment, which seeks to clarify the law on travelling abroad to die, is set to be debated in the House of Lords tomorrow.

The amendment states that it is not against the law to enable or assist somebody to travel abroad to have an assisted suicide in a country where it is legal if:

– Two medical practitioners confirm, independently of each other, that the person travelling abroad to die is terminally ill and competent to make such a decision
– The person travelling abroad to die makes a declaration that it is their decision to have an assisted death, and this is witnessed by an independent person who does not stand to benefit from their death

An Ipsos MORI survey commissioned by Dignity in Dying, published today, found that a majority of the 1,755 questioned[1] believe that a family member or friend of a terminally ill, mentally competent adult should not be prosecuted for enabling or assisting them travel abroad to die. Half of the sample[2] was informed of the present penalty[3] for assisting somebody in this and 76% of those in this group believe the person should not be prosecuted. The other half[4] were not informed of the penalty and a higher proportion (80%) believe they should not be prosecuted.[5]

A clear majority[6] also supported a change in the law to remove the threat of prosecution in these circumstances.

The amendment is co-signed by the former Leader of the House of Lords and Health Spokesperson, the Rt Hon Baroness Jay of Paddington (Labour), as well as the barrister Lord Lester QC (Liberal Democrat) and Lord Low (Crossbencher), Chairman of RNIB.

Lord Falconer said:

“My amendment will not allow people to travel to countries where assisted suicide is lawful. That is already allowed. Instead it will remove the threat of prosecution from the relatives who travel with their loved one so they don’t die alone. That threat forces some people to go to die alone and earlier than otherwise for fear of what may happen to those who accompany them. And my amendment introduces safeguards to ensure that the family do not put undue pressure on their relative, safeguards which do not currently exist.

“The DPP has not prosecuted in any of the cases which have been brought to his attention. Even where he thinks on the evidence a crime has been committed.

“No one has the stomach to enforce the current law, because it is inhumane and further provides no protection for the vulnerable.

“My amendment makes the law work humanely and in a way which provides proper protection for the vulnerable”

Baroness Jay said:

“We need to face up to this reality; on average one Briton a fortnight travels abroad for an assisted death in a jurisdiction where it is legal. There are now nearly 800 Britons who are members of the Swiss assisted suicide clinic Dignitas, and more than 115 Britons who have travelled abroad to die. This amendment provides the necessary safeguards to ensure that those who accompany their terminally ill loved ones abroad for an assisted death they choose are not prosecuted, while sending out a message that assisted dying abroad should not be unregulated.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, says:

“The survey has shown that the public overwhelmingly support this change.[7] Previous surveys on support for legalising assisted dying for the terminally ill in the UK has shown a similar level of support[8], but this is the first indication we have on the public’s opinion of regulating assisted dying abroad. Parliament finally has the opportunity to listen to the public and act on the specific issue of people travelling abroad to die, and I hope they have the courage to do what is desperately needed and change the law to end the unnecessary threat of prosecution whilst also safeguarding against abuse.”


Notes to editors:

About Dignity in Dying:

– Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.
– Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
– Surveys consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population supports a change in the law on assisted dying.

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About the survey
Technical note:

The survey was carried out using Ipsos MORI’s in-home face-to-face Omnibus service, CAPIBUS, with interviewing carried out between 5th and 11th June 2009. A nationally representative quota sample of 1,755 adults, aged 18 years were interviewed across 170 sampling points across England and Wales. Survey data were weighted to the known profile of this population. Half of the sample (879) were informed of the current penalty and the other half were not (876) (before being asked the question relating to whether or not person should be prosecuted).