For the next six weeks, we’ll hear about almost nothing else in the news but the General Election. Even as I write this, David Cameron is on the TV next to me calling it “the most important election for a generation”. So while election fever takes over the country, I thought I should give all of our supporters a round-up of what happened last year and what we’re hoping will happen after the election on May 7th.
What’s happened so far?
Amidst the pomp of the dissolution of Parliament, there was final confirmation that Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill will not become law this year. It’s disappointing, particularly for the large number of people who are suffering from terminal illnesses and will have this choice denied to them. But it’s not unexpected: we’ve always known it would be difficult to change the law without the backing of the major parties.
On the positive side, the campaign in support of Lord Falconer’s Bill has come on in leaps and bounds. The Assisted Dying Bill has progressed further than any legislation on the subject ever has before. In July the House of Lords refused to reject the Bill in principle, in November the Lords unanimously agreed to a strengthened safeguarding system and, in January, Peers voted by a margin of nearly 2:1 to oppose amendments that would have derailed Lord Falconer’s proposals. This is a complete reversal in the votes against Lord Joffe’s Bill in 2006 and against Lord Falconer’s proposals in 2009 to decriminalise people who travel to other countries to make use of their right to die laws.
Despite this huge progress, however, the Assisted Dying Bill did not complete its stages in the House of Lords. A number of Peers, rather than opposing the legislation, tried instead to slow down proceedings and insufficient time was granted to debate the Bill to make up for this.
What happens next?
It’s clear that the House of Lords has changed its mind on assisted dying, and a solid majority of those who took part in debates on assisted dying support the proposals. The House of Commons hasn’t debated assisted dying recently, however, and it’s important that MPs consider the issue again.
Our experience in the Lords has also demonstrated that it’s nigh-impossible to legislate on issues like this without support from the Government. So how do we get that all-important support? For this we need your help.
How you can help
In the next few weeks, candidates will be standing for (re-)election to the House of Commons. Assisted dying is a ‘conscience’ issue so each MP must make up his or her mind as to whether or not to support assisted dying legislation. We need our supporters across the country to tell their MPs that they want to see Parliamentary time set aside to debate this important subject, rather than brushing it under the carpet.
It’s also important that we identify candidates who might support a change in the law if they are elected. Please make sure, when you’re being canvassed by candidates, you canvass them back – would they support giving time for a full debate on assisted dying? Do they in principle agree with a dying person’s right to choose the manner and timing of their death? We’d always like to know what kinds of responses you receive – the best way to let us know is to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or to call the office on 020 7479 7737.
MPs must realise that the vast majority of their constituents want to see a change in the law, and that they cannot ignore their wishes any longer. It’s time to grasp the nettle and time to give dying people the choice to have control over the timing and manner of their death. The next Parliament must legislate to allow assisted dying.