Thank you for contacting me about assisted dying and attempts by some MPs, peers and pressure groups to revive efforts to change the law.
I remain concerned about this issue and follow it as closely as possible.
As you will be aware Parliament has debated this issue on several occasions. The most recent debate on specific legislative proposals was in the House of Commons on 11 September 2015, when the Assisted Dying (No.2) Bill had its Second Reading. The Bill was rejected by 330 votes to 118.
My views on this issue have not changed. I will continue to follow developments carefully, and I know that the Ministers responsible for this policy area will do likewise.
I have stated my views on proposals to change the law before and am happy to restate them and to make them clear in public and in the House:
There is no doubt in my mind that all those who engage with this issue are driven by the desire to alleviate the suffering of others - the differences are over how this might best be achieved.
My own view remains what it has been for some time namely that I accept that there are imperfections in and problems with the current law, but I think that these can be dealt with sensitively and sensibly without having a new law that decriminalises or legalises assisted dying. I have a number of concerns about such proposals:
Given the progress made in so many areas of medical care and research, it seems to me realistic to suggest that better terminal care and palliative care service development are what is needed rather than assisted dying. Bearing in mind the increasing awareness of mental health issues in all areas of life, I have no doubt that more work will and needs to be done too on the emotional and mental health support that people with life-limiting illnesses need. I believe the fundamental assumption of any society must be that each person's life shall be afforded equal protection and that we should do what we can to prevent or alleviate the situations that make life intolerable; I worry that moves towards decriminalising assisted dying would have the unintended consequence of weakening this assumption.
A further anxiety is that people who are vulnerable for all sorts of reasons might perceive themselves to be a ‘burden’ to others and this becomes the main factor in their requesting assisted dying.
The present situation allows for considerable discretion on the part of law enforcement agencies, of which they make considerable use, while affording a powerful measure of protection as and when needed. I know we will agree that the lives of the terminally ill and the frail are of equal value to anyone else’s and that they deserve equal protection under the criminal law.
Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP