The former Lord Chancellor, the Rt Hon the Lord Falconer (Labour), has tabled an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill to bring the law on travelling abroad to die in line with public opinion and current prosecuting policy. The amendment has been co-signed by the former Leader of the House of Lords and Health Spokesperson, the Rt Hon the Baroness Jay of Paddington (Labour), as well as the barrister Lord Lester QC (Liberal Democrat) and Lord Low (Crossbencher), Chairman of RNIB.
Whilst it is not against the law to travel abroad to have an assisted suicide in a country where it is legal, it is against the law to accompany or enable somebody to travel abroad to die – a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison. At present, the final decision on whether to bring a prosecution rests with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Over 100 people have travelled abroad to die, yet none of their relatives have been prosecuted for assisting them. The amendment would remove the threat of prosecution from family members whilst introducing much-needed safeguards to protect the vulnerable.
The amendment will be debated during the Committee stage of the Coroners and Justice Bill. Committee will be comprised of approximately 6 to 8 sittings. The first two sitting days of Committee are 9 and 10 June, but the amendment is unlikely to be debated until later in the committee process (a date for which has not yet been set).
The amendment states that it is not against the law to enable or assist somebody to travel abroad to have an assisted suicide in a country where it is legal if:
– Two medical practitioners confirm, independently of each other, that the person travelling abroad to die is terminally ill and competent to make such a decision
– The person travelling abroad to die makes a declaration that it is their decision to have an assisted death, and this is witnessed by an independent person who does not stand to benefit from their death
Lord Falconer says:
“This amendment does not say whether people can go to Switzerland or other places where assisted suicide is lawful. That can happen anyway. But it means they don’t have to go alone, or be fearful that their loved ones will be prosecuted. It reflects the compassionate approach taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions, it includes safeguards, and it ensures the criminal law reflects currently applied standards.”
Baroness Jay says:
“We need to wake up to the reality of what is happening. There are now nearly 800 Britons who are members of the Swiss assisted suicide clinic Dignitas, and over 100 Britons who have travelled abroad to die. Within necessary safeguards, which this amendment provides, we should not seek to criminalise people like Edward and Sophie Turner who compassionately accompanied their terminally ill mother abroad to die.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, says:
“The public overwhelmingly support change, this amendment gives politicians the opportunity to listen and act. We cannot directly regulate foreign assisted suicide clinics, but we can change the law to end the unnecessary threat of prosecution whilst safeguarding against abuse.”
Notes to editors:
Amendment tabled by the Rt Hon the Lord Falconer:
Insert the following new Clause-
“Acts not capable of encouraging or assisting suicide
(1) An act by an individual (“D”) is not to be treated as capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another adult (“T”) if-
(a) the act is done solely or principally for the purpose of enabling or assisting T to travel to a country or territory in which assisted dying is lawful;
(b) prior to the act, two registered medical practitioners, independent of each other, have certified that they are of the opinion in good faith that T is terminally ill and has the capacity to make the declaration under subsection (2); and
(c) prior to the act, T has made a declaration under subsection (2).
(2) A declaration by T is made under this subsection if the declaration-
(a) is made freely in writing and is signed by T (or is otherwise recorded and authenticated if T is incapable of signing it),
(b) states that T-
(i) has read or been informed of the contents of the certificates under subsection (1)(b), and
(ii) has decided to travel to a country or territory falling within subsection (1)(a) for the purpose of obtaining assistance in dying, and
(c) is witnessed by an independent witness chosen by T.
(3) “Independent witness” means a person who is not-
(a) likely to obtain any benefit from the death of T; or
(b) a close relative or friend of T; or
(c) involved in caring for T.
(4) D is not to be treated as having done an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of T by virtue of being with T when, in a country or territory falling within subsection (1)(a), T takes steps (including steps taken with the assistance of D) to commit suicide by lawful means.”
The Rt Hon the Baroness Jay of Paddington
The Lord Lester QC
The Lord Low
Coroners and Justice Bill, relevant clauses:
Suicide (Clauses 49 to 51)
These clauses amend the Suicide Act 1961 with the aim of modernising and simplifying the law without changing its scope. This is in order make it clear that it is illegal to encourage suicide via the internet.
Dignity in Dying supports the Government’s efforts to better protect young and vulnerable people who may be encouraged to commit suicide by others, regardless of whether this is done via the internet or via other means. However, while we welcome these amendments on the condition of proper legislative scrutiny, we are extremely concerned that these amendments fail to address a wider problem with the law, which is that at present (and as proposed) the law fails to distinguish between those who assist and/or encouraging suicide and those who assist the death of a terminally ill, mentally competent adult who feels their suffering has become unbearable.
About Dignity in Dying:
– Dignity in Dying campaigns for greater choice, control and access to services at the end of life. It advocates providing terminally ill adults with the option of an assisted death, within strict legal safeguards, and for universal access to high quality end-of-life care.
– Dignity in Dying has over 100,000 supporters and receives its funding entirely from donations from the public.
– Opinion polls consistently show that at least 80% of the UK population supports a change in the law on assisted dying.
For all media enquiries, please contact Jo Cartwright on 020 7479 7737 / 07725433025 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.