Skip to content

MPs to debate assisted dying for the terminally ill (11th November 2008)

11th November 2008

MPs to debate assisted dying for the terminally ill

MPs will have the opportunity today to debate the law as it relates to assisted dying. This will be the first time that the issue is debated in the House of Commons in over ten years and follows calls for the issue to be addressed by MPs in light of the number of British people who have, or are planning to, travel abroad to have a medically assisted death.

Commenting on the development, Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

Dignity in Dying is delighted that MPs now have the chance to discuss this important issue. There is a problem that needs to be resolved. Due to the lack of a safeguarded choice people are travelling abroad to die, there are ‘mercy killings’, botched suicides and some doctors are helping their patients to die.

“We need to give mentally competent terminally ill adults the option of an assisted death if they feel their suffering has become unbearable, and we also need to better protect vulnerable people. The overwhelming majority of the public want a change in the law. This debate gives MPs a valuable opportunity to discuss how we can bring about this change”.

The debate was tabled by Dr Evan Harris MP, Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Compassion in Dying. Commenting on the debate Dr Harris said:

“Over 900 people in the UK are forced to get illegal assistance to die every year because of outdated British law. The consequences of a 47-year old Suicide Act are pernicious and Parliament needs to debate this without delay.”

Alongside Dr Harris, a number of other MPs will contribute to the debate including David Winnick MP. Mr Winnick said:

“The present law is most unsatisfactory. There needs to be a measure along the lines of the very tightly drawn Lord Joffe Bill, which was unfortunately defeated in the House of Lords over two years ago. I have no doubt that change will come, it is only a question of when.”

The hour and a half debate will take place in Westminster Hall todayat 11am. A Minister from the Ministry of Justice will respond to the comments made by the contributing MPs.


Notes to editor:

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.

Opinion polls consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population supports a change in the law on assisted dying.

About Dr Evan Harris MP

Dr Evan Harris MP is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, a seat he won in 1997. A former hospital doctor, Dr Harris has represented the Liberal Democrats in both Health and Science issues. He is well known and respected as a forthright advocate for greater patient choice.

About David Winnick MP

David Winnick MP is the Labour MP for Walsall North, a seat he has represented since 1979. He is highly regarded for his strong commitment to human rights, in 2005 his amendment to a government bill on detention of terrorist suspects without trial – proposing that the maximum period of detention should be 28 days, rather than 90 – passed in the House of Commons by 323 votes to 290.

Media enquiries

Please contact James Harris by telephone on 020 7479 7739 or 07766574447 or by email