Parliament should be given the opportunity to consider Assisted Dying.
The issue was last voted on by Parliament in 2015. The debate has evolved in that time and so has the make-up of Parliament. There are more jurisdictions introducing Assisted Dying legislation and more data and evidence to draw upon. The Courts have been clear that this is a matter for Parliament. This is also the stated position of Government, but Government has not afforded Parliament the opportunity to debate or vote on the issue.
In effect, Government is side stepping the issue, saying it’s up to an individual backbench MP to bring forward legislation in relation to Assisted Dying. This is not a sustainable position as the only mechanism to do this is via a Private Members Bill. Private Members Bills are used for MPs to advance pet projects and require an MP to ‘get lucky’ in a lottery; they rarely become law. It is Government that controls the legislative agenda and the Parliamentary order paper. By not making time for this issue, Government is in effect preventing Parliament from voting on the matter.
Under the 1961 Suicide Act, assisting a suicide is a criminal act punishable by imprisonment. Those seeking Assisted Dying fear their relatives may be prosecuted under this legislation if they are aware of their plans. It is the job of Government to ensure legislation is clear, up to date and fit for purpose. Legislation needs to keep pace with social change and evolving social attitudes.
Government cannot continue to sidestep this deeply challenging and emotive issue. It should afford Parliament the opportunity to debate and vote on the issue. There are Members of Parliament who object to Assisted Dying as a matter of conscience and all agree that if a vote were held it should be a free vote. Of those who do object on moral or religious grounds, few would seek to block debate or prevent a vote in Parliament, so it is difficult to understand why Government continues to avoid the issue.
The Courts are right: Assisted Dying is a matter for Parliament and it is for Government to afford Parliament the opportunity to debate and vote on this matter.
Lucy Allan MP is a member of Parliament's Health Select Committee. These are Lucy Allan's personal views and are not the views of the Health Select Committee.