Credit: Paul Jenkins. Flickr, licenced under Creative Commons 2.0; https://bit.ly/2PKWBIY

Henry Marsh, a leading neurosurgeon and patron of My Death, My Decision, has called for an ‘essential’ inquiry into assisted dying.  He has been prompted by a cancer diagnosis, and been backed by a group of 56 MPs and peers who have sent a joint letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, calling for an inquiry. The letter was organised by My Death, My Decision and Humanists UK.

The MPs and peers come from the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP, Green Party, and the Crossbenchers, and include some who had previously voted against changing the law.

The letter notes the large scale BMA poll of doctors which found half of doctors personally support a change in the law, and a broad form of assisted dying inclusive of those who are incurably suffering as well as those who are close to death.

Many jurisdictions, including Canada and New Zealand, have introduced, or are considering assisted dying legislation.

Speaking about his diagnosis, Henry Marsh said: 

‘Having spent a lifetime operating on people with cancer, the prospect of dying slowly from it myself fills me with dread. Despite the best efforts of palliative medicine, I know that dying from cancer can still be a very horrible business – for both patient and family, despite what the opponents of assisted dying claim.

‘I fiercely believe that if people in my situation knew they had the ability to choose how, when, and where they would die, it would greatly reduce their suffering. Knowing that I had this choice, if life became unbearable, would certainly give me much greater confidence now in facing whatever the future might hold for me. But as the law stands, I am not allowed this comfort, and the law insists instead that I must suffer. Many politicians have shown a striking lack of compassion by ducking this issue for too long, and are inadvertently guilty of great cruelty. Irrespective of your view on assisted dying, I would hope everyone could agree that our laws should be based on evidence and informed decisions, not alarmist, unfounded opposition that flies in the face of all the evidence from countries where assisted dying has been legalised. It’s time for all MPs to start taking this issue seriously and I urgently call upon them to undertake an inquiry into the law.’

MDMD’s Lead Campaign Commentator, Phil Cheatle commented:

‘Henry Marsh is a strong and vocal supporter of MDMD’s campaign. I am deeply sorry to hear of his illness and the difficult decisions he now faces which are made harder by the cruel UK law that denies him the option of a compassionate assisted death. An inquiry is essential to allow evidence to be gathered from all sides of the debate.’

‘The letter Dr Marsh has helped bring about is incredibly significant as it demonstrates the growing sentiment among parliamentarians for considering a broad assisted dying law which will apply to those who are incurably suffering as well as those who are terminally ill. The government has already recognised the weaknesses associated with time-limited definitions of “terminal illness” in relation to benefit claimants. The focus now needs to move beyond the narrower version of assisted dying which is limited to those with a life expectancy of six months or less. More and more people are realising the limitations of that approach. Instead, the UK should carefully examine the growing evidence of the broader, more compassionate approach, adopted by Canada and other countries.’

For any more information or comment please contact Keiron McCabe, My Death, My Decision’s Campaigns and Communications Manager at keiron.mccabe@mydeath-mydecision.org.uk or phone 07396694470

Read My Death, My Decision’s and Humanists UK’s open letter. 

Henry Marsh

Henry Marsh, 71, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and an advanced PSA score typically associated with stage 3 and 4 cancer. The typical mortality rate for those in this situation is between one and five years.

Joint Parliamentary Letter

The letter has been signed by 56 MPs and peers, including the two co-chairs of the All Party-Parliamentary Humanist Group Crispin Blunt MP and Baroness Bakewell, as well as Aaron Bell MP, Lord Haworth, Lord Aberdare, Lord Dubs, Lord Turnbull, Andy Slaughter MP, Baroness Mallalieu, Baroness Taylor, Lord Young of Norwood Green, Beth Winter MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Christine Jardine MP, Chris Law MP, Clive Betts MP, Clive Lewis MP, Lord Soley, Lord Low of Dalston, Lord Lipsey, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe, Duncan Baker MP, Baroness Murphy, Lord Judd, George Howarth MP, Huw Merriman MP, Baroness Whitaker, Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, Baroness Tonge, Lord Purvis of Tweed, Lord Maxton, the Earl of Sandwich, the Duke of Somerset, Lord Barker of Dorking, Kevin Hollinrake MP, Baroness Burt, Margaret Hodge MP, Lord Rees, Viscount Ridley, Lord Desai, Lord Dobbs, Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, Lord Dholakia, the Earl of Clancarty, Lord Warner, Rachel Hopkins MP, Baroness Lister, Baroness Brinton, Baroness Greengross, Baroness Hamwee, Steve McCabe MP, Lord Elder, Tommy Sheppard MP, Tracey Crouch MP, and Lord Davies of Stamford.

Read more about My Death, My Decision’s campaign for an inclusive change in the law: https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/

My Death, My Decision is a grassroots non-profit organisation that campaigns for a balanced and compassionate approach to assisted dying in England and Wales. As a growing movement, we are at the forefront of social change: nearly 90% of the public now favours a change in the law to allow adults of sound mind, who are either terminally ill or facing incurable suffering, the option of a peaceful, painless, and dignified death.