Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“We are saddened to hear of Ron’s death and we extend our sincere condolences to Ron’s family, friends and colleagues.
“Ron used his final months, as his health was rapidly deteriorating, to call for a change in the law on assisted dying. His decision to speak out encouraged 17 of his fellow police and crime commissioners to publicly address the Justice Secretary, who agreed to meet Ron to discuss their serious concerns regarding the safety and implementation of the current law. Unfortunately this meeting was not possible, first because of the General Election and then because of Ron’s failing health. We hope the Justice Secretary will honour this commitment and will agree to meet with Ron’s friend and colleague, Martyn Underhill, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset.
“Ron’s sincere request to MPs was that they listen to the voices of dying people, of police officers, and of bereaved family members who have been caught up in our cruel, outdated laws on assisted dying. Sadly Ron was not able to live to see the change he campaigned so passionately for. A better, kinder and safer law is long overdue. Other countries – the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – have shown it is not just possible, but the right and necessary thing to do.”
In September 2019 Ron announced in The Guardian that he had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease the previous month, and called for a change in the law on assisted dying.
In October Ron wrote to the Justice Secretary alongside 17 fellow Police and Crime Commissioners calling for an inquiry into the impact of the current law. Ron also wrote in The Times about his severe misgivings with the UK’s blanket ban on the practice:
“All police officers will know that sometimes making something illegal does more harm than good; rather than eliminating that activity, it drives it underground. Instead of allowing safeguards to control it, the blanket ban on assisted dying ensures that people take the law into their hands behind closed doors, with no possibility of preventing abuse until it’s too late. It leads to police and prosecutors expending their efforts on the victims of the law — the bereaved families left behind. Our already stretched police resources should not be spent investigating crimes that rarely reach court, and if they do, lead to an acquittal; crimes that present investigators with several operational challenges; crimes that arguably should not be on the statute book.”
A number of cross-party MPs echoed the police and crime commissioners’ calls for an inquiry in a letter to The Guardian in October.
Ron’s death was announced on Tuesday 17 December 2019.
For further information and interview requests please contact Ellie Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org / 0207 479 7732 / 07725 433 025.
The law on assisted dying in the UK
Assisted dying is prohibited in England and Wales under the Suicide Act (1961), and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act (1966) which states that anyone who “encourages or assists a suicide” is liable to up to 14 years in prison.
There is no specific crime of assisting a suicide in Scotland, but it is possible that helping a person to die could lead to prosecution for culpable homicide.
In a House of Commons in a debate in July and at Justice Questions in October, MPs have called on the Government to initiate a call for evidence on the damage being done to dying people, their families and public services.
Mavis Eccleston and Ann Whaley
Dennis Eccleston, a former miner from Staffordshire, was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer in 2015 at the age of 79. In February 2018, Dennis and his wife of almost 60 years, Mavis Eccleston, attempted to end their own lives. Dennis died two days later in hospital and Mavis, 80, made a full recovery following treatment. Following a trial at Stafford Crown Court, a jury found Mavis not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter on Wednesday 18 September 2019.
Diagnosed with terminal motor neurone disease, Geoffrey Whaley, 80, made the decision to travel to Switzerland for an assisted death accompanied by his wife Ann, 76, in February 2019. Weeks before his scheduled journey, an anonymous call was made to social services, alerting the police of his plans. Geoffrey and Ann were subjected to a police investigation which risked stopping him from travelling and carried the possibility of prosecution for her. On the day of his death, Geoffrey released an open letter to MPs urging them to legalise assisted dying as an option for dying Brits.
The Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in March 2019 following a survey of its 36,000 members.
The Royal College of General Practitioners conducted a survey of its 53,000 members on assisted dying in November-December 2019, with results to be announced in 2020. It is currently opposed to a change in the law.
The British Medical Association announced in June 2019 that it will survey its 160,000 members on assisted dying for the first time. The BMA is currently opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying. Its policy is decided at its Annual Representative Meeting, which voted on 25th June by 193 votes to 113 in favour of the survey.
Assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in ten US jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine (June 2019).
Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016. As a result of the Canadian Supreme Court’s judgment in Carter v Canada in February 2015, the Canadian government introduced assisted dying legislation in June 2016.
Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people in June 2019. The Government of Western Australia passed an assisted dying bill on 10 December 2019 which will be implemented in the coming months.
New Zealand will put an End of Life Choice Bill to a public referendum in 2020 after the legislation passed third reading on Wednesday 13 November 2019.
About Dignity in Dying
Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It campaigns within the law to change the law, to allow assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults with six months or less to live – something supported by 84% of the public (Populus, 2019).
Dignity in Dying does not provide practical assistance or advice in ending life, nor does it provide enquirers with the contact details of organisations who do so.