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House of Commons MPs reject ‘right to die’ legislation

On 11th September the House of Commons rejected legislation to allow adults with fewer than 6 months to live the right to ask for medical help to end their own life. 

The Assisted Dying Bill was introduced following last year’s UK Supreme Court decision, R (Nicklinson & Anor) v Ministry of Justice [2014] UKSC 38, which stated that Courts did not have the authority to rule on the right to die; it was a matter for Parliament to decide through legislation.  

The Bill would have allowed people with fewer than 6 months to live to be prescribed a lethal dose of drugs, which they would have been able to take themselves.  Two doctors and a High Court Judge would have needed to approve each case.  In an impassionate debate some MPs argued that the Bill did not contain sufficient safeguards to protect the most vulnerable in society with one MP stating

We are here to protect the most vulnerable in our society, not to legislate to kill them.’

Keir Starmer, the Labour MP and former director of public prosecutions, gave an important speech in favour, after laying out his reasons for deciding in a number of cases not to prosecute people who had helped dying relatives to end their lives abroad,

‘We have arrived at a situation where compassionate amateur assistance from nearest and dearest is accepted, but professional medical assistance is not unless you have the means of physical assistance to get to Dignitas’.

The bill was rejected by 212 votes with 118 MPs being in favour and 330 against.  The scale of the vote means the issue is unlikely to come before Parliament for at least another decade.