A YouGov poll conducted on behalf of Dignity in Dying has found that 67% of Conservative Party members want to see a change in the law to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to choose the manner and timing of their own death. Just 20% oppose a change in the law, while 13% did not have a settled view either way.
Significantly, support for assisted dying proposals modelled on the Assisted Dying Bills debated in Parliament in 2014 and 2015 was consistent whether those members voted remain or leave, were male or female, and across all age groups, social grades and regions. This is similar to the general public, where polls over the last three decades have shown a consistently high level of support for dying people to be given a choice at the end of life.
The poll was conducted by YouGov, whose long-running polls on members of the Conservative Party are a trusted barometer of feeling amongst Tory grassroots activists. A recent YouGov poll of Conservative Party members found that while more members (59%) believed it was right to legislate for equal marriage, 31% thought it was the wrong decision.
Dignity in Dying Chief Executive Sarah Wootton said:
“The upcoming leadership contest in the Conservative Party will undoubtedly be dominated by the Brexit question, but that should not be the sole factor for party members to take into consideration when choosing the new Prime Minister. Just like the general public, most Tory members want to see a change in the law to allow assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults.
“In past years, Parliament has failed to listen to the public on assisted dying. Both David Cameron and Theresa May made clear their view that they oppose a change in the law. With a new generation of MPs coming forward to apply for the top job in the country, we hope they will listen not just to the British public but also study the evidence from the USA, Canada and Australia that assisted dying laws are safer, more compassionate and widely-supported in countries not so different to our own.
“Assisted dying has been hailed as the next great liberal reform. This poll clearly shows that there is great appetite for change in the Conservative Party and a new leader could make this the next popular, progressive cause for the country.”
For more information, please contact Dignity in Dying’s Director of Campaigns and Communications, Tom Davies, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7479 7734.
About the poll:
YouGov polled 957 members of the Conservative Party between 20th and 23rd May 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Conservative Party Member GB adults (aged 18+).
Currently it is illegal for a doctor to help someone with a terminal illness to end their life. A proposed new law would allow terminally ill adults the option of assisted dying. This would mean being provided with life-ending medication, to take themselves, if two doctors were satisfied they met all of the safeguards. They would need to be of sound mind, be terminally ill and have 6 months or less to live, and a High Court judge would have to be satisfied that they had made a voluntary, clear and settled decision to end their life.
Do you support or oppose this proposal for assisted dying becoming law?
The law on assisted dying in the UK
Assisted dying is prohibited in England and Wales under the Suicide Act (1961), and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act (1966) which states that anyone who “encourages or assists a suicide” is liable to up to 14 years in prison. There is no specific crime of assisting a suicide in Scotland, but it is possible that helping a person to die could lead to prosecution for culpable homicide.
In February 2010, following the Debbie Purdy case, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) issued the prosecuting policy on cases of ‘Encouraging or Assisting Suicide’. It covers actions that happen in England and Wales, even if the death happens abroad. The policy includes a list of public interest factors that will influence whether or not someone is prosecuted for assisting suicide. The policy states that in cases of encouraging or assisting suicide, prosecutors must apply the public interest factors in making their decision about whether or not to prosecute. A prosecution will usually take place unless the prosecutor is sure that there are sufficient public interest factors against it.
A prosecution is less likely if the person made a voluntary, informed decision to end their life, and if the assister was wholly motivated by compassion.
A prosecution is more likely if the person ending their own life was under 18, lacked capacity to make an informed decision about ending their life or was physically able to end their life without assistance. The assister is more likely to be prosecuted if they had a history of violence or abuse against the person they assisted, were unknown to the person, were paid by the person ending their own life, or were acting as a healthcare professional.
The true cost of the current law
Currently, every 8 days someone travels to Switzerland from Britain for a legal assisted death – a process which costs £10,000 on average and often causes people to die earlier than they would have wanted in order to be well enough to make the journey.
Polling has found that over half (53%) of Brits would consider travelling abroad for an assisted death if terminally ill and two-thirds (66%) would consider breaking the law to help a loved one do so, yet only a quarter (25%) would be able to afford it. A further 300 terminally ill people end their own life in the UK every year.
Assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in nine US jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii and New Jersey (April 2019).
Victoria will become the first Australian state to pass a Bill legalising assisted dying for terminally ill people in June 2019. A similar Bill was defeated in New South Wales by just one vote in November 2017. The Government of Western Australia plan to introduce an Assisted Dying Bill in their state Parliament in the second half of 2019.
Canada legalised medical aid in dying (MAID) in June 2016.
About Dignity in Dying
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.
Dignity in Dying does not provide practical assistance or advice in ending life, nor does it provide enquirers with the contact details of organisations who do so.
1 Estimated using publicly available figures from Dignitas and figures supplied through private correspondence with the Life Circle (Eternal Spirit) facility.
2 The True Cost: How the UK outsources death to Dignitas – Dignity in Dying, November 2017
3 Polling conducted by YouGov, August 2017.
4 A Hidden Problem: Suicide by terminally ill people – Dignity in Dying, October 2014.
5 Polling conducted by Populus, March 2010