Amid a flurry of planned oral evidence sessions and online roundtable discussions, the Health and Social Care Committee has at last published the written submissions made by various parties in January. However, as of 15th May 2023, there is still no timetable for completion of the inquiry.
In their written submission to the inquiry, My Death, My Decision made it clear that at the heart of the assisted dying debate lie people with lived experience who are either terminally ill or suffering unbearably from incurable conditions. They cited the well-known cases of Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, both of whom sadly died before they could see their goal of a humane change in the law achieved.
MDMD made the case that all of this suffering is avoidable, but the UK has exported compassion abroad, for those who are able to travel and can afford it, because that is the only legal way to get help. There are also considerable legal uncertainties for those who accompany others, as the case of Sue Lawford in 2022 showed.
Nicely summarising the challenge faced by the UK, in their submission Dignitas – to live with Dignity – to die with Dignity, did not pull any punches. They described themselves as an emergency exit because “many countries’ governments and legal systems disrespect their citizens’ basic human right to self-determination and choice in life and life’s end, ban the topic with a taboo, and force them either to turn to lonely risky do-it-yourself suicide attempts or to travel abroad instead“.
You can see all submissions, with a search facility, here.
The Committee has also posted a summary of its investigations to date, including from the individual survey responded to by over 65,000 people.
The Committee made it clear that the survey was not a poll, so they have not said how many respondents were in favour or opposed – but the summary has some revealing information about the reasons given on both sides. For example, of opponents, 53% chose the sanctity of life as a reason for opposing, suggesting that many hold religious, rather than evidence-based, grounds for opposing.
Progress towards a law is underway close to home in Scotland, Jersey, the Isle of Man, and France. These jurisdictions aim to join the 28 around the world that already allow assistance to die, most recently Portugal, where the law was approved only last week. It remains to be seen when and how England and Wales will achieve the same.
Trevor Moore, Chair of My Death, My Decision, says:
‘My Death, My Decision welcomed the inquiry by the Health and Social Care Committee and looks forward to its conclusions. We hope that in drawing those, the Committee listens above all to those who face unbearable suffering because of our absence of a compassionate assisted dying law.
Decades of international experience show that a regulated assisted dying system with appropriate protocols can work well and maintain public confidence. By contrast, fears of abuse expressed by opponents whenever a law is introduced have not been justified in practice.”