Great Britain: Assisted Suicide rejected by the House of Commons

On September 11, 2015, the House of Commons studied a motion on assisted suicide, the Assisted Dying Bill (No 2) 2015, a subject which divides the British people. The text was massively rejected by 330 votes against and 118 for.

This motion, presented by MP Rob Marris (Labour), takes up again a motion introduced in 2014 in the House of Lords by Lord Falconer (Labour), which didn’t come to anything, but which also aimed at legalising assistance to suicide.

Since the Suicide Act of 1961, Great Britain considers it a crime either to encourage or help a person commit suicide. In 2010, however, a special policy was published detailing the criteria for penal action in cases of assisted suicides.

The Assisted Dying Bill (No 2) 2015 suggested to authorise assisted suicide for people in terminal phase of illness with a vital prognostic of less than 6 months. The lethal products were to be supplied by the patient’s own doctor and taken by the patient himself or herself. By delegation and at the request of the patient, another doctor or a nurse authorised by the patient’s own doctor could also have been allowed to provide the products.

But last July the British Geriatrics Society, the main organisation representing health personnel in geriatrics, expressed itself clearly against euthanasia. Professional bodies such as the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners or the British Medical Association maintain the same position.

In the past weeks different movements have also highlighted the dangers of such a motion.

The research institute “Living and Dying Well” explains that the laws are not just regulatory instruments: “They send out a message to society. Thus, a law on assisted suicide sends the message that, if you’re ill and in the terminal phase, ending your life could be a choice. This is suicide, and this cannot be encouraged nor assisted. Most doctors don’t want to be involved in helping patients to die. The observations that can be made in the few countries where these practices have been permitted is not reassuring at all. Our preoccupation should focus on the accompaniment of people in the terminal phase, to live and die in dignity, not to encourage them to end it themselves”.

“Not Dead Yet UK”, a network of handicapped people opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia, also denounce a law which would put pressure on vulnerable people in the terminal phase and on handicapped people. The association underlines that it is more dangerous than ever to introduce a legislation encouraging suicide – as a solution to the obstacles handicapped people have to face to live – instead of giving them the means to overcome them.

“Care not Killing”, a movement linking citizens, associations and health personnel opposed to euthanasia, called for a demonstration before parliament on the day of the vote; this gathered a number of people affected by handicaps or disabling illnesses, who held up signs saying “Assist us to live, not to die”.

The spokesperson for David Cameron had indicated the previous evening that the Prime Minister’s position was clear: “He is not convinced that new measures need to be taken, and he is not in favour of any motion leading to euthanasia.”

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