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Irish assisted dying bill step closer to becoming law

  • TDs vote 81 to 71 to progress Dying with Dignity Bill to committee stage
  • UK Parliamentarians say case for review of British assisted dying laws stronger than ever

TDs in Ireland’s Dáil tonight (Wednesday 7 October 2020) voted to progress a Dying with Dignity Bill to committee stage, bringing the option of assisted dying for terminally ill Irish citizens a step closer to becoming legal. The bill will now undergo pre-legislative scrutiny in one of the Dáil’s select committees, after an amendment tabled by the coalition government that would have delayed the bill’s passage was defeated.

The vote follows a debate last Thursday in which a majority of speakers backed law change, with many TDs citing powerful testimony from constituents who have suffered under Ireland’s blanket ban on assisted dying. It comes as New Zealand prepares to hold the world’s first national referendum on assisted dying next week, after its Parliament passed an End of Life Choice Bill last year.

Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP and former Cabinet Minister, and Karin Smyth, Labour MP and vice-chair of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly – both co-chairs of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life – have commended Irish TDs for addressing this issue and re-stated the urgent need for an inquiry into the UK’s own assisted dying laws.

Andrew Mitchell said,

“With COVID-19 exacerbating even further the suffering of terminally ill Brits and their families under the UK’s ban on assisted dying, it is more pressing than ever that we re-examine these laws. How can it be claimed they are working well, when our own citizens are resorting to horrific suicide methods at home because they cannot get to Dignitas?

“Parliamentarians in Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and the US have examined the evidence and concluded that safe, compassionate assisted dying legislation can and should be implemented. Are we really to accept that the UK is so different?”

Karin Smyth said,

“Ireland has taken great strides in recent years to provide its citizens with the freedom of choice that has existed across most of the UK for some time. And yet on the matter of assisted dying we are leagues behind our neighbours.

“Just as in Ireland, our current laws on assisted dying deny dying people choice and criminalise acts of compassion. TDs are rightly taking action and so must we, starting with an inquiry into the full impact of this outdated legislation.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said,

“Tonight’s assisted dying vote in Ireland was a victory for common-sense and compassion, and should give our MPs pause for thought. While politicians around the world give assisted dying the attention it deserves, the UK is lagging shamefully behind and terminally ill people and their loved ones are bearing the brunt of our inaction.

“There is a growing clamour from across society for an urgent review of our cruel laws. Cross-party Parliamentarians, Police and Crime Commissioners, interfaith leaders and senior figures in the medical profession, including most recently Emeritus Medical Director of Public Health England Paul Cosford, all recognise that the ban on assisted dying is simply not working. COVID-19 has intensified longstanding problems with death and dying in this country, including the woeful lack of meaningful choice and control. We must address these problems now in the form of an inquiry – not in spite of the pandemic, but because of it.”


For more information or interview requests please contact Tom Davies, Director of Campaigns and Communications, at or 07725 433 025.

Notes to Editor:
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).

International developments
Tonight (Wednesday 7 October 2020) TDs in Ireland’s Dáil voted 81 to 71 to allow the Dying with Dignity 2020 Bill to proceed to committee stage for pre-legislative scrutiny. An amendment tabled by the coalition government to establish a new special Oireachtas committee to examine the issue and report back in a year’s time was defeated.

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).
Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people in June 2019. Western Australia voted to legalise a similar bill in December 2019. The health committee of the Government of Queensland published a report in March 2020 recommending that legislation enabling terminally ill citizens the option of assisted dying be introduced, the result of a year-long investigation.
New Zealand will put an End of Life Choice Bill to a public referendum on October 17th, after legislation passed third reading in November 2019.

Assisted dying proposals in the British Isles and Crown Dependencies
A Westminster Hall debate on assisted dying took place on 23 January 2020, in which a majority of speakers backed growing calls from across society for an inquiry into the UK’s current laws on assisted dying. The functioning and impact of the current law was debated at a backbench business committee debate in July 2019. Proposals for assisted dying legislation were last debated in the Commons in September 2015.

The Government of Jersey announced in February 2020 that it would launch a Citizen’s Jury on assisted dying, which will give recommendations to the States Assembly ahead of a debate at the end of this year. In 2019 the Government of Jersey announced that it would undertake detailed research into the views of residents, overseas developments and potential legislation.
The Isle of Man’s Parliament, Tynwald, debated assisted dying at its January sitting on 22 January 2020. It last debated legislation in 2015.
The Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands voted in favour of two motions on assisted dying in July 2018 (that terminally ill residents should have the right to die at a time and place of their choosing, and that should legislation be introduced in the UK, the Falkland Islands would consider adopting it).

The States of Guernsey last debated assisted dying proposals in May 2018.

Healthcare professionals
Eminent GPs Prof Aneez Esmail and Sir Sam Everington recently launched a legal challenge to the Royal College of GPs alongside the Good Law Project and Dignity in Dying over RCGP Council’s decision to maintain opposition to assisted dying despite its own survey showing a dramatic shift in GP opinion. The RCGP has committed to respond to the concerns raised in the legal challenge by the 6th November, shortly after the next meeting of its Trustees.

The British Medical Association conducted its first ever membership survey on assisted dying in February 2020, the results of which are yet to be released. Its current position (opposed to a change in the law) is also due to de debated at their next Annual Representative Meeting in 2021.

In March 2019, the Royal College of Physicians dropped its longstanding opposition to assisted dying in favour of neutrality following a member survey.