MPs to revisit assisted dying with an inquiry next year

<span>Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA</span>
Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

MPs are to open an inquiry into assisted dying in the new year, looking in particular at the experience of other countries that have changed their laws.

The health and social care committee will hear evidence from medical professionals, campaigners and the public, and make recommendations to the government on the issue.

Anyone assisting or encouraging another person to end their life faces a prison sentence, with 200 cases of assisted dying or assisted suicide referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by the police over the past 13 years. There have been four successful prosecutions.

Some form of assisted dying or assisted suicide is legal in at least 27 jurisdictions worldwide. It became legal in Canada in 2015, in the Netherlands in 2001, and in the US state of Oregon in 1994.

Twenty-three people travelled from the UK to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end their lives last year.

A poll in 2018 carried out on behalf of the campaign group My Death, My Decision found that a large majority of the British public was in favour of a change in the law, when asked about different scenarios.

The government has stated it is for parliament to decide on the issue. In 2015, MPs voted overwhelmingly against changing the law to allow doctors to help terminally ill people end their lives, in the first Commons vote on the issue for about 20 years

A private member’s bill on assisted dying was introduced by Lady Meacher in May 2021 and received its second reading in the House of Lords, but failed to progress before the end of the parliamentary session.

The committee said its inquiry would consider the role of medical professionals, access to palliative care, what protections would be needed to safeguard against coercion, and the criteria for eligibility to access assisted-dying/assisted-suicide services.

Steve Brine, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, said: “The debate on assisted dying and assisted suicide understandably arouses passionate views with many different and equally valid perspectives. It’s an issue that has vexed parliamentarians who have sought a way through the many ethical, moral, practical and humane considerations involved.

“What has changed in recent years is that there is now real-world evidence to look at. We will look at the moral, ethical and practical concerns raised in a way that is informed by actual evidence.”

Trevor Moore, the chair of My Death, My Decision, said “many people who are incurably suffering and people who have witnessed a loved one’s painful death” would welcome the inquiry. “I hope [MPs] look at all the international evidence that shows that safe, compassionate assisted dying laws are possible. People who are incurably suffering deserve the right and freedom to make decisions about the end of their lives,” he added.