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Parliamentary Progress on Assisted Dying Blocked by Government in House of Lords

A vote on Lord Forsyth of Drumlean’s amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill which would have required the Government to present a draft assisted dying bill to parliament within a year was narrowly lost in the House of Lords tonight, Wednesday 16th March. The amendment received 145 votes in favour and 179 against.

The amendment, which stated that it would enable both Houses to properly consider the issue and that it should be a matter of individual conscience, fell after Government instructed Conservative Peers to vote in opposition.

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying said:

“By insisting that Conservative Peers vote against Lord Forsyth’s amendment, the Government has done a disservice not only to our dying citizens who are suffering under an unsafe, uncompassionate law but also to our democracy in curtailing the proper debate and scrutiny of much needed reform. Lord Forsyth was very clear that his amendment was simply about ensuring full and fair debate. In taking action to prevent the amendment from passing all Government has ensured is that our elected parliamentarians are, for now, denied this opportunity.”

“While this vote was not on the principle of assisted dying itself, the least we can do for dying people is ensure Parliament can fully examine whether the status quo is truly working or whether there is a safer, more compassionate alternative. We can see from experience overseas that if parliamentarians are given the opportunity to fully examine arguments for and against assisted dying, they will recognise the only appropriate response is reform.”

Lord Forsyth added:

“It is fatuous of the Government to say they are neutral on the issue of assisted dying whilst refusing to allow time for it to be considered. Without Government time the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and the abolition of the death penalty would never have reached the statue book. By insisting Conservative Peers vote against my amendment they have lost any claim to be neutral on an issue of the highest importance, putting themselves out of touch with the public including Conservative voters. While this was the first discussion on the need for a proper parliamentary process for assisted dying law reform, it will not be the last.”

The vote took place as new research conducted by YouGov showed that three-quarters (74%) of Brits want their own MP to vote in favour of legalising assisted dying, with eight in 10 (79%) believing the Government should ensure a debate takes place before the next general election.