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Time runs out on assisted dying debate…for now –

A valuable opportunity for MPs to debate the law on assisted dying was missed tonight when there was insufficient parliamentary time to discuss The Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP’s amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill on assisted dying. The amendment would have brought the law on assisted suicide in line with the practice of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Courts. Sadly, all business not debated by the end of the session today was guillotined, and so there won’t be further opportunity for debate before the Easter recess. However, the issue will come back to the Commons once the House of Lords has scrutinised the Bill.

Patricia Hewitt MP says:

“I am heartened by the support my amendment has received from colleagues on all sides of the House and by the many encouraging letters I have received from members of the public. Although we did not have a chance to debate this issue tonight, this strong support clearly shows that there is a need for this important issue to be addressed.”

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying says:

“We know there are a significant number of Peers who are concerned that the Bill as currently drafted does not distinguish between maliciously encouraging a suicide and compassionately assisting a terminally ill, mentally competent adult who wants to die. Therefore I am confident that this issue will be addressed when the Coroners and Justice Bill moves to the House of Lords.”

The Coroners and Justice Bill will go to the House of Lords after it completes its stages in the Commons on Tuesday (24/03/09). In the Lords, it will be debated at Second Reading before being considered in detail at Committee, Report and Third Reading. At these stages the Bill can be amended by Peers. Any Lords amendments have to be agreed by a majority of MPs in due course.


Notes to editor:


We believe that the Coroners and Justice Bill will receive its Second Reading in the House of Lords shortly after the Easter recess.

Amendment tabled by The Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP:

Acts not capable of assisting or encouraging suicide (exception for travel abroad)

“2ZA Acts not capable of encouraging or assisting
(1) An act by D is not to be treated as capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person (“T”) if 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;

Signed by:
The Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt MP (Lab)
Crispin Blunt MP (Con)
Dr Evan Harris MP (Lib Dem)
The Rt Hon Kevin Barron MP (Lab)
Richard Ottaway MP (Con)
James Plaskitt MP (Lab)
Chris McCafferty MP (Lab)

Coroners and Justice Bill, relevant clauses:
Suicide (Clauses 46 to 48)

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 not. 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 mentally competent terminally ill adult who feels their suffering has become unbearable.

The decision on whether to bring a prosecution for ‘encouraging or assisting’ suicide will remain with the Director of Public Prosecutions. The proposed changes do not clarify when it is in the public’s ‘best interests’ to bring a prosecution. In an interview with the Times, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kier Starmer, said if the law was revised to clarify categories of offence “that obviously means everyone is in a better position, but that is not in my gift, that is for Parliament”.

About Dignity in Dying:

– Dignity in Dying is the leading organisation in the UK that advocates assisted dying for terminally ill patients.
– 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 support a change in the law on assisted dying.

Media Contacts:
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