Parliament should not license assistance with suicide – it is neither necessary nor safe to do so.

Rob Marris MP’s Assisted Dying No. 2 Bill would license physician-assisted suicide in England and Wales. It fails to provide sufficient safeguards to protect people with life-limiting conditions from abuse, coercion or feeling a duty to die for the financial or emotional benefit of others.

Rob Marris MP’s Assisted Dying No. 2 Bill will be debated at Second Reading in the House of Commons on 11 September.  Copies of a bill were circulated at a campaigning meeting at Westminster on 20 July, at which Mr Marris was present. This may well be the bill itself, though to date it has not appeared on the Parliament website.

As Parliament will not reconvene until 7 September, there are just four sitting days remaining before Mr Marris’s bill is to be debated.  Given this short timescale Living and Dying Well has published its analysis of Mr Marris’s bill based on the assumption that it will be similar to Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Lords. That assumption appears, from the text circulated on 20 July, to be correct.

LDW’s analysis can be found in the Publications section of this website.  It concludes that:

“Before legislation of such gravity can be responsibly enacted, serious evidence is needed, first, that the law as it stands is not fit for purpose; and, second, that what would be put in its place would be better. On neither count has any convincing evidence been presented.

“The law that we have is not perfect but it does what it is designed to do. It holds penalties in reserve to deter malicious assistance with suicide and it allows for discretion not to prosecute where that it appropriate. The law also reflects social attitudes to suicide – that, while people who attempt to end their lives should be treated with understanding and compassion, suicide itself is not something to be encouraged, much less assisted.

“The legislative proposals that have been put forward fail the public safety test. Safeguards to protect vulnerable people are either non-existent or, where they exist, inadequate. They also seek to involve doctors in practices in which most of them are unwilling to participate and to involve the courts in a way which blurs responsibility for decision-making and undermines accountability.”

Living and Dying Well’s Director Agnes Fletcher commented:

“The law as it stands accurately reflects society’s view that, while suicide should be viewed with understanding, it should never be encouraged, much less assisted – whatever the cause of suicidal feelings and whether or not they can be relieved.

“All of us with the capacity to make decisions are able to refuse or doscontinue life-prolonging treatment, with access to whatever is required to manage distressing symptoms. In that sense we all have the right to die. To involve doctors in intentionally ending life, and to locate assistance with suicide within clinical practice, is neither necessary nor safe. It presents significant dangers to people when they are at their most vulnerable. Our focus should be on ensuring that good end of life care services are available to everyone who needs them.”

Notes to Editors

1. Living and Dying Well is a public policy research organisation established in 2010 to promote clear thinking on the end-of-life debate and to explore the complexities surrounding ‘assisted dying’ and other end-of-life issues.