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Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP tables amendment to bring the law on assisted suicide in line with the practice of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Courts –

The former Secretary of State for Health, Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP, has tabled an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill, with cross party support.

Patricia Hewitt MP says:

“In the long term we need a Bill to change the law to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults suffering at the end of their lives the choice of an assisted death, within safeguards, in this country. In the meantime, I hope that the amendment I have tabled will prompt the long overdue Parliamentary debate necessary to bring the law on assisted suicide in line with the practice of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Courts.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying says:

“Currently the Coroners and Justice Bill fails to distinguish between maliciously encouraging a suicide and compassionately assisting a terminally ill, mentally competent adult who wants to die. Clearly the law should protect vulnerable people from abuse, but at the same time it should not criminalise people who accompany those who make rational decisions to end their suffering. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the Courts have made public their reluctance not to prosecute those who accompany loved ones abroad, when they have chosen to have an assisted death in a country where it is legal. The amendment aims to ensure that the law reflects this practice.”

“There is clearly an appetite for a debate as shown by the 102 MPs, to date, who have supported the call for this by signing Early Day Motion 230.”

MPs will have the opportunity to debate this and other amendments to the Bill during Report stage on 23rd and 24th March, in the House of Commons.


Notes to editor:

Amendment tabled by Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP:

Acts not capable of assisting or encouraging suicide (exception for travel abroad)

“2ZA Acts not capable of encouraging or assisting
(1) An act by D is not to be treated as capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person (“T”) if the act is done solely or principally for the purpose of enabling or assisting T to travel to a country or territory in which assisted dying is lawful;

Signed by:
The Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP (Lab)
Crispin Blunt MP (Con)
Dr Evan Harris MP (Lib Dem)
The Rt Hon Kevin Barron MP (Lab)
Richard Ottaway MP (Con)
James Plaskitt MP (Lab)
Chris McCafferty MP (Lab)

Report stage:

The purpose of this amendment is simply to start a debate in the House of Commons, and to highlight why the current law is not working so a vote will not be sought on this amendment at Report stage in the Commons.

EDM 230 wording:

That this House expresses concern that some terminally ill adults end their suffering by travelling abroad to die, committing suicide, asking a loved one for assistance to die, or are illegally assisted to die by their doctor; notes that the Suicide Act 1961 aims to protect vulnerable people by prohibiting complicity in suicide; welcomes the Government’s plans to modernise the law via the Coroners and Justice Bill to make it explicitly clear that this prohibition applies to the internet; further notes that there are concerns that the Suicide Act 1961 is not fit for purpose; and calls for a full debate on whether the law should be updated sufficiently to protect vulnerable people whilst distinguishing between assisting suicide and assisting the death of a mentally competent terminally ill adult.

Link to EDM:

Signatories (in order of signing):

David Winnick, Evan Harris, Crispin Blunt, Chris McCafferty, James Plaskitt, Ann Cryer, Paul Holmes, Paul Flynn, Alan Simpson, Lynne Jones, Andrew Dismore, Jim Devine, Neil Gerrard, Ian Gibson, Eric Illsley, Frank Cook, John Leech, Kelvin Hopkins, Paul Keetch, David Howarth, Mark Oaten, Martyn Jones, Stephen Dorrell, Lorely Burt, Paul Rowen, Robert Marshall-Andrews, Rudi Vis, Mark Hunter, Chris Mullin, Peter Kilfoyle, David Laws, Richard Caborn, Diane Abbott, Jenny Willot, Menzies Campbell, Roger Berry, Gerald Kaufman, Michael Mates, Alan Meale, Richard Ottaway, Mike Hancock, Desmond Turner, Nick Palmer, Bob Russell, Andrew Love, Edward O?Hara, Harry Cohen, Susan Kramer, Graham Stuart, Ann Clwyd, Andrew George, Nick Ainger, Mike Wood, Martin Horwood, Lembit Opik, Jeremy Browne, Lynne Featherstone, Julie Morgan. Gwyn Prosser, Adrian Sanders, Bob Laxton, Elfyn Llwyd, Andrew Miller, Colin Challen, Bill Etherington, Roger Godsiff, Fabian Hamilton, Andy Slaughter, Mark Williams, Norman Lamb, Paul Farrelly, Janet Anderson, Phil Willis, Richard Younger-Ross, Roger Williams, Parmjit Dhanda, Glenda Jackson, Tom Levitt, John Mann, Martin Caton, Frank Doran, Sandra Gidley, Judy Mallaber, Tom Brake, David Chaytor, Ben Wallace, David Anderson, Angela C Smith, Stephan Williams, Norman Baker, Jim Dowd, John Austin, Doug Naysmith, Sandra Osborne, Alister Carmichael, Michael Meacher, Graham Allen, Emily Thornbury, Kate Hoey, Martin Salter, Annette Brooke, Richard Burden.

Coroners and Justice Bill, relevant clauses:
Suicide (Clauses 46 to 48)

These clauses amend the Suicide Act 1961 with the aim of modernising and simplifying the law without changing its scope. This is in order make it clear that it is illegal to encourage suicide via the internet.

Dignity in Dying supports the Government?s efforts to better protect young and vulnerable people who may be encouraged to commit suicide by others, regardless of whether this is done via the internet or not. However, while we welcome these amendments on the condition of proper legislative scrutiny, we are extremely concerned that these amendments fail to address a wider problem with the law, which is that at present (and as proposed) the law fails to distinguish between those who assist and/or encouraging suicide and those who assist the death of a mentally competent terminally ill adult who feels their suffering has become unbearable.

The decision on whether to bring a prosecution for ?encouraging or assisting? suicide will remain with the Director of Public Prosecutions. The proposed changes do not clarify when it is in the public?s ?best interests? to bring a prosecution. In an interview with the Times, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, said if the law was revised to clarify categories of offence ?that obviously means everyone is in a better position, but that is not in my gift, that is for Parliament?.

About Dignity in Dying:

– Dignity in Dying is the leading organisation in the UK that advocates assisted dying for terminally ill patients.
– 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 support a change in the law on assisted dying.

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