It is important to recognise that this debate will not lead to a change in the law. Regardless of the debate’s outcome, and contrary to the wishes of a clear majority of the public as evidenced by opinion poll after opinion poll, assisted dying will remain a criminal offence. Nevertheless this is an important debate, and a major milestone in the campaign.
It’s important because for many years this issue has been a subject of intense public debate. At times, and with many brave people like Diane Pretty and more recently Geraldine McClelland demanding action, it seemed like the only people not debating the law on assisted dying were MPs. Now they have a chance to catch up with the rest of us. It represents a milestone because this debate will force MPs to face up to reality of what is going on: the many accounts of those taking matters into their own hands at the end-of-life and others forced to suffer against their wishes. The majority of the general public want MPs to debate this issue.
And this debate is specifically about MPs considering what is going on at present. Whilst it will also inevitably address calls for (and against) a change in the law, providing MPs with an opportunity to express a view either way, the substantial issue at hand is not whether the law should change, but rather the application of the existing law. The motion (authorised by the Backbench Business Committee and co-tabled by Conservative MP, Richard Ottaway, and Labour MP, David Winnick), calls on MPs to welcome the Director of Public Prosecutions’ (DPP’s) guidelines on how decisions are made on whether or not to prosecute cases of assisted suicide.
Successive Directors of Public Prosecutions have taken a flexible and compassionate approach, and have sought to avoid prosecuting amateur compassionate assisters – a policy now confirmed by DPP’s guidance published in 2010. It is important that this approach is endorsed by the House of Commons.
Sadly, there will be some MPs who support automatic prosecution and a potential prison sentence of up to 14 years for anyone who assists someone to die, regardless of the circumstances. However, we hope that these MPs are very much in the minority. A recent debate in the House of Lords on the DPP’s guidelines indicated the emergence of a broad consensus in support of the approach taken by the DPP. We very much hope this is replicated in the House of Commons. But to achieve that we need your help.
Please take the time to contact your MP about this important debate – it only takes a few minutes. It is crucial that we reinforce how many people care about this issue and who don’t want to see it swept under the carpet for another 15 years…