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Fresh bid for progress on assisted dying debated in Lords

  • Lord Forsyth’s amendment to Health and Care Bill deferred to Report Stage following debate late on Wednesday night
  • Amendment would commit Government to table draft assisted dying legislation within year
  • Senior Conservative Peer recently revealed change of mind on assisted dying after father’s death
  • Former Health Minister Lord Bethell among supporters from all sides of House

A new bid to secure a parliamentary debate on assisted dying was debated last night in the House of Lords (Wednesday 26 January 2022). An amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill tabled by senior Conservative Peer Lord Forsyth of Drumlean was debated late into the evening, inserting a new clause which would require the Government to present a draft Assisted Dying Bill to Parliament within a year.

As is the convention, Lord Forsyth confirmed he did not wish to vote on the amendment at Committee Stage but to return at Report Stage, setting the stage for another important debate and vote on assisted dying in the House of Lords.

The Former Scottish Secretary’s amendment states that this would enable both Houses to properly consider the issue and that it should be a matter of individual conscience. Lord Forsyth will continue this discussion with Government Ministers and seek to revisit the discussion at Report Stage, where it will then be voted upon, likely to be in late February or early March.

Lord Forsyth recently revealed that he had changed his mind on assisted dying after his father, dying in pain of bladder cancer in 2020, criticised him for opposing previous Bills which would have allowed him the option. Lord Forsyth also expressed in the debate last night that he had for some time “felt it was rather hypocritical to vote against something I would want for myself”.

In October 2021, a Private Member’s Bill on Assisted Dying brought by Baroness Meacher (crossbench Peer and Chair of Dignity in Dying) passed unopposed at Second Reading in the House of Lords. It would legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, subject to strict safeguards and alongside access to high quality palliative care. Such a change is supported by 84% of the public (Populus, 2019). However, it is unlikely that enough time will be allocated to fully debate the almost 200 amendments that have been tabled, and the Bill is therefore unlikely to progress beyond Committee Stage.

This evening Lord Forsyth referred to the clear process for reform in the Scottish Parliament, which “allows legislation to be discussed properly and protected from wrecking amendments”. In Scotland an Assisted Dying Bill proposal has recently been the subject of a popular public consultation. Responses are being analysed before legislation is drafted and then put before a select committee of the Parliament for further scrutiny later this year.

Lord Forsyth said,

“My amendment is absolutely not about the merits of the case for legalising assisted dying. [It is about ensuring] this Parliament is given the same opportunities as the Scottish Parliament to debate this issue…. The [Lords] private members bill procedure results in our inability to properly discuss the merits and demerits and the protections that are needed….

“[This amendment] does not commit the Government to support legislation, but would allow Members of the Commons and this House to express their views… It is not a neutral position to persist in a position where no Bill is allowed to progress. This amendment enables the Government to say ‘we will as a Government not promote or oppose [assisted dying] but give Parliament the opportunity to do so’.”

Progress is also underway in the States of Jersey, where legislation is due to be drafted after its Parliament approved assisted dying in principle and a citizen’s jury strongly recommended change, and in Ireland’s Oireachtas, where a Special Committee is set to examine the issue over nine months this year.

Lord Forsyth’s amendment was formally supported by former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton, former Deputy Labour Leader in the House of Lords Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town and former Health Minister Lord Warner. Several Peers from all parties spoke in its favour this evening, with many noting they were sharing views with colleagues on opposite sides of the House for the first time.

Speakers included former Health Minister Lord Bethell, who referred to progress around the world, the shifting views among medics and the consistently high levels of public support for change. He concurred with Lord Forsyth and several speakers that private members bills are not a satisfactory mechanism for change. Quoting TS Eliot, Lord Bethell said “Hurry up please. It is time” for the Government to tackle this debate.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for a change in the law on assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, said:

“Lord Forsyth, joined by eminent Peers on all sides of the House, has a modest but vital request of the Government: give the assisted dying debate the time and respect it deserves. This is what his amendment hopes to achieve, as does our newly launched government petition. Both merely seek assurance that parliamentary time will be set aside for full and proper debate, enabling the Government to remain neutral on whether the law should change whilst allowing Parliamentarians the opportunity to fully examine the evidence and vote according to their individual conscience.

“Momentum for greater choice at the end of life is building across the UK and Ireland, but the terminally ill citizens of England and Wales risk losing out and continuing to suffer against their wishes because of a quirk of Westminster’s antiquated parliamentary process. Without Government time, private member’s bills such as Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill will fail despite soaring public and growing parliamentary support, weighed down by scores of wrecking amendments tabled by opponents, designed to prevent proper debate. The debate over our right to determine how and when we die is too important to be relegated to the side-lines of parliamentary discussion.”



For more information, photos or interview requests with Dignity in Dying spokespeople or people with personal experiences, please contact Molly Pike, Media & Campaigns Officer on 07929731181 or, or Ellie Ball, Media & Campaigns Manager on 07725 433 025 or