- Half of Brits have witnessed suffering of terminally ill loved one
- 7 in 10 want assisted dying legalised by next general election
More than seven in 10 (74%) Brits want Parliament to vote in favour of the Assisted Dying Bill due for debate in the House of Lords next Friday (22 October 2021), with half (52%) revealing they have witnessed the suffering of a terminally ill loved one, finds new polling published today (Saturday 16 October 2021). Just one in 10 (9%) feel Parliament should vote against the Bill, with seven in 10 (70%) wanting to see assisted dying legalised before the next general election.
The new poll, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Dignity in Dying, is released a week before Parliamentarians debate assisted dying legislation for the first time in six years. The private member’s Assisted Dying Bill is proposed by Dignity in Dying Chair and crossbench peer Baroness Meacher and will receive its Second Reading on Friday 22 October 2021. Assisted dying is currently banned in England and Wales, with a maximum sentence of 14 years.
Before being asked for their views, respondents were informed about the Bill, which would “allow terminally ill adults the option of legally seeking assistance to end their lives. This would mean being provided with life-ending medication, to take themselves, if two doctors were satisfied they met all of the safeguards. They would need to be of sound mind, be terminally ill and have six months or less to live, and a High Court judge would have to be satisfied they had made a voluntary decision with time to consider all their options.”
The House of Lords debate comes as a public consultation on a similar bill was launched in Scotland last month, after Liam McArthur, Lib Dem MSP for Orkney, lodged the ‘Assisted Dying Scotland’ Members Bill proposal with the Non-Government Bill Unit (NGBU) of the Scottish Parliament in June 2021. The States of Jersey are also expected to debate assisted dying next month, after a citizens jury on the topic strongly recommended law change on the island this summer.
Last month the British Medical Association dropped its longstanding opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying, joining the Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Psychiatrists and Royal College of Nursing in adopting a neutral stance. Last year the BMA conducted the largest ever survey of medical opinion on assisted dying in the UK, in which a majority (61%) voted for the organisation to change its position. It also found that more doctors now personally support a change in the law (50%) than oppose it (39%).
Assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults is available in ten states in the US plus the District of Columbia, five states in Australia (with a bill tabled in New South Wales this week), and will be available across New Zealand next month (following a public referendum last year on legislation approved by its Parliament in 2019). Spain approved an assisted dying bill in March, Austria and Germany are examining legislative proposals after their respective courts struck down assisted dying bans, and a Special Oireachtas Committee is due to examine assisted dying in Ireland. Broader assisted dying and right-to-die laws are in place in Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
David Peace, 73, from Westminster, was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, an incurable and terminal condition, in 2019. He is now unable to speak or swallow and receives special nutrition via an external tube into his stomach. David intends to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland in the coming months, where assisted dying is permitted for foreign nationals under strict safeguards.
“The Assisted Dying Bill is urgently needed to rectify the dire lack of choice and control afforded to people like me in this country. The current law forces me to contemplate two options: face the gradual, unstoppable paralysis of my whole body and endure increasing discomfort and distress as I die, or take matters into my own hands at home or abroad.
“I am not suicidal, I simply want a death on my own terms. The only reason I don’t have to contemplate ending my own life here is because I am fortunate enough to have the funds required for Dignitas and great friends willing to break the law to help me get there, but it means going before I am truly ready. That is deeply unfair.
“It is heartening, but not surprising, to see so much public support for the Assisted Dying Bill. Now it’s time for Parliamentarians to follow suit and give terminally ill people like me a real say over how, when and where we die.”
Baroness Meacher said,
“The strength of feeling among the British people on assisted dying is clear. People of all ages, in all corners of the UK, from all backgrounds and across the political spectrum want to see a new law – within this Parliament – that provides choice, compassion and protection to dying people. That is precisely what my private member’s bill proposes.
“This is an issue that touches so many of us – half of Brits have cared for or seen a terminally loved one suffering. This includes myself and, I’m sure, many of my colleagues in the House of Lords. An assisted dying law, alongside improved funding for and access to palliative care, will help to ensure that dying people have access to all of the care, treatment and choices they want and deserve. This legislation is modest in scope but has the potential to transform all of our lives and deaths for the better, and I urge Peers to give it their backing next week.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said,
“Mounting evidence has shown that the UK’s blanket ban on assisted dying is not working and this poll clearly shows that the public understands the case for reform. The status quo does not provide sufficient choice or protection for our terminally ill citizens, puts loved ones in impossible positions, prevents healthcare professionals from providing all the end-of-life options their patients want, and forces the police to spend time and resource on cases which are clearly motivated by compassion and are rarely, if ever, prosecuted.
“Much has changed since Parliament last debated assisted dying proposals six years ago. Over 200 million people around the world now have access to a full range of options at the end of life, including one in 5 Americans, 17 million Australians, all Canadians and soon all New Zealanders and Spaniards. Closer to home a Special Committee in Ireland will examine the subject, a public consultation on an assisted dying bill is underway in Scotland and a citizen’s jury in Jersey has strongly recommended law change in the island. The UK’s largest doctors’ union recently dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying. The march of progress is towards greater end-of-life choice and the British public has given Parliamentarians a clear mandate: back the Assisted Dying Bill.”
For more information or interview requests, please contact Ellie Ball at email@example.com or 07725 433 025.
Notes to Editor
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,733 adults in GB. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th – 8th October 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).