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Parliamentary debate on assisted suicide

by
03 April 2012

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From the Revd Professor Paul Badham

Sir, — I regret that your brief news report on the Parliamentary debate last week was seriously misleading. It stated that MPs had voted down an “assisted-suicide proposal”. There was no such proposal. Rather, Richard Ottoway MP asked MPs to endorse the guidelines of the Director of Public Prosecutions. They did so unanimously.

The guidelines say that prosecution is unlikely if the dying person had a “voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision to commit suicide” and if the person who lent assistance was “wholly motivated by compassion”. Since the guidelines were issued, no one has been prosecuted; but it was thought desirable to know the mind of the House of Commons on this issue.

The debate showed Parliament at its best. Speeches from all sides were informed and compassionate. Although MPs had different views on the desirability of assisted dying, even those most opposed believed that prosecution leading to 14 years’ imprisonment was wholly in­appropriate in situations where a person had reluctantly agreed to help a loved one to die.

Dame Joan Ruddock had initially proposed an amendment seeking to put the guidelines on a statutory footing; but, in the light of the spirit of the debate, she withdrew her amendment. Fiona Bruce MP proposed an amendment to encourage the further development of palliative care, which all supported. The final text “welcomes the Director of Public Prosecutions’ Guidelines in respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide and encourages further development of specialist palliative care and hospice provision”.

The transcript of the debate can be read by Googling Hansard for 27 March and scrolling down to “Assisted Suicide”.

PAUL BADHAM
Department of Theology
University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Lampeter Campus
Ceredigion SA48 7ED

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