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Patient safety impact of assisted dying ban can no longer be ignored

Dignity in Dying responds to recent cases of deaths by and attempts of suicide by terminally ill people and loved ones, amid ongoing CPS consultation on suicide pacts and mercy killings and upcoming ONS data on suicides by terminally ill people

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

“Several cases of terminally ill people taking their own lives – sometimes alongside loved ones who have survived – have recently come to light. These are not isolated tragedies but warning signs of the serious patient safety implications of the ban on assisted dying which can no longer be ignored.

“In recent weeks alone we have learnt of Mr Smith of East Sussex, who after surviving an attempt to end his own life alongside his terminally ill wife of almost 50 years, has pled guilty to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility; of former Formula 1 boss Max Mosley, who took his own life using a firearm while suffering in pain from terminal cancer; of Dr Christopher Woollard, a professor with terminal cancer who stole and crashed a plane to end his life; Mr & Mrs Norris, a couple suffering with serious health complications who took their own lives together; and of Mr Hunter, a British expat who is facing a murder charge in Cyprus after helping his terminally ill wife to die and surviving an attempt to end his life alongside her.

“These cases add to the mounting evidence demonstrating that the ban on assisted dying not only lacks compassion but is deeply dangerous. Without the safe, legal choice to die on their own terms, hundreds of terminally ill people every year are forced to take their own lives, either alone behind closed doors or with compassionate but illegal help from loved ones. The ONS is examining this worrying phenomenon, with data on suicides by terminally ill people due out on the 20th of April. The CPS is currently consulting on updated guidance which would treat suicide pacts and so-called ‘mercy killings’ differently to serious crimes of manslaughter and murder, in recognition that loved ones often feel they have no choice but to take the law into their own hands. While this is welcome, what is really needed is a change in the law on assisted dying – and only Parliament can make that a reality.

“Under transparent, robust assisted dying legislation, patients are far more able to have open, honest conversations with healthcare professionals about their fears and priorities for the end of life, allowing any concerns about mental capacity to be identified and referrals to mental health or other support to be made. The option of a dignified assisted death would only be open to those with a terminal prognosis and full mental capacity, as confirmed by independent doctors and a judge and alongside all current end of life options. This reform would provide far more safeguards than the status quo, which is causing untold devastation to dying people and families.

“The public is calling for a safer, more compassionate law; over 57,000 people have signed our petition calling for a full and fair examination of assisted dying in Parliament. Significant evidence is building that the current law is dangerous and must be reviewed as a matter of urgency.”


For further information and interviews with parliamentarians, Dignity and Dying spokespeople and case studies please contact Molly Pike, Media and Campaigns Officer at Dignity in Dying on 07929 731181 or email: