Dignity in Dying

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:44 pm on 8th December 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield 8:44 pm, 8th December 2021

My hon. Friend and I will no doubt continue this argument for many months. He and I are as one on the importance of improving palliative care, but alas, there are those who will never benefit from those improvements because of the nature of their illness. I will come to Oregon in a moment, but to address the very point that he made, we emphasise the importance of a High Court judge being involved.

What can we learn from overseas, as others like us struggle with this issue? We know that this can all be done better. Indeed, with each year that passes, yet another jurisdiction takes a step forward to provide choice at the end of life for its citizens. Eleven states in the USA and five Australian states have legalised assisted dying, with New South Wales likely to follow suit very shortly. New Zealand permits assisted dying, following a nationwide referendum that found an overwhelming majority of New Zealanders supported a change in the law. In Europe too, in the past couple of years, laws have been passed by the Spanish and Portuguese Parliaments, and court judgments have overturned the bans on assisted dying in Germany and Austria.

In places such as Oregon, which my hon. Friend mentioned, assisted dying has been legal for a quarter of a century, and the eligibility criteria and processes remain essentially the same as the day they were introduced. Of the jurisdictions that have introduced assisted dying solely for people who are terminally ill and mentally competent, not a single one has subsequently extended its laws beyond that point.

The other important point is the direction of travel in this area: we are told by those who oppose law change that other countries provide clear warnings of the horrors that would befall the elderly, the vulnerable and others in society if we were to legalise assisted dying. Not only is there no evidence to that effect, but no single jurisdiction has legalised assisted dying and then subsequently repealed that law. Do we as a House consider ourselves to be more blessed with wisdom and foresight than the parliamentarians of all of these other jurisdictions or think that they have simply turned a blind eye to those concerns? The truth, of course, is that these fears, as seriously as we take them, simply have not come to fruition.

Very close to our shores, change is on its way. Two weeks ago, the States Assembly of Jersey voted by a large margin of 36 votes to 10 in support of a proposition on assisted dying, with draft legislation to be introduced by 2023. A widely signed petition led to the establishment of a citizens’ jury of islanders, which found that more than 75% of participants wanted to legalise assisted dying.

Ireland’s Parliament has given its support in principle to assisted dying in October 2020 and a new special committee has been established to begin working on legislation that will command the support of their MPs. That work will commence early next year and demonstrates the renewed commitment of the Irish Parliament to progressive causes.

Perhaps most important is the proposed legislation in the Scottish Parliament, introduced by the long-serving and well respected Liam McArthur MSP. Indications are that the resulting legislation is likely to secure the support of MSPs, as long as it is tightly drafted and contains robust safeguards. Scotland would become the first constituent nation of the United Kingdom to legislate on assisted dying and, inevitably, that may shine a light on our successive failures to progress law changes here in Westminster.