Painfully slow progress on assisted dying for much of the UK


Guest article by Trevor Moore*

To understand the current situation on progress towards an assisted dying law in the UK and Crown Dependencies, it is first important to know that the power to make laws lies with individual Parliaments in most cases. These include Scotland, Isle of Man, and Jersey. All three of these jurisdictions are at quite advanced stages of developing an assisted dying parliamentary Bill, and it is possible that they will all have a law by late 2024 or early 2025.

The first among the three might well be Isle of Man, where a significant hurdle was jumped on October 31, 2023: Dr Alex Allinson’s Assisted Dying Bill passed its second reading in Parliament. The Bill will now enter the clause stage where individual elements of the Bill can be scrutinised and voted on.

Slow progress at Westminster

For both England and Wales, the move to introduce a law is governed by Parliament at Westminster. Unfortunately, progress here is much slower. Three so-called Private Members’ Bills (draft legislation) have been presented to Parliament in the past ten years. These are “Private” because they are promoted by an individual politician, if he or she is lucky enough to get chosen from a ballot, and not government business. All three Bills have either been voted down (2015) or failed due to lack of Parliamentary time – the latter happening where the government does not agree to carry forward a Bill from one parliamentary session to the next.

In any event, those three Bills mirrored each other in providing for assisted dying only for those with six months or less to live. This is narrower than the scope of MDMD’s campaign (and narrower than assisted dying laws in Canada, the Benelux countries, and Switzerland), which seeks a law applicable to the terminally ill (without any arbitrary life expectancy criterion) and to those suffering unbearably from incurable conditions, such as our brave patron Paul Lamb, who died in 2021 – read more about him here: Paul Lamb

The HSCC inquiry

The most recent move has been an inquiry on assisted dying by the House of Commons (i.e., the lower house of our two-tier Parliament) cross-party Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC). This is not a governmental committee and therefore chooses its own priorities. It has no powers to require law change and can only make recommendations to the government.

The HSCC launched the inquiry in December 2022 and completed all consultations and evidence sessions in July of this year. MDMD and DIGNITAS – To live with dignity – To die with dignity both made a written submission: (HSCC inquiry - MDMD; HSCC inquiry - DIGNITAS), and DIGNITAS gave oral evidence following an invitation by the Committee (oral evidence DIGNITAS).

The HSCC report is expected soon, certainly before the end of the year, though there is doubt that it will make firm recommendations. Even if it did, the UK faces a General Election before the end of January 2025. Our research suggests that neither of the two main parties (Labour and Conservative) will make the issue part of their core campaign, not least because all parties have said that voting on assisted dying is a matter of individual conscience and so will not be core government business.

The current Labour leader, Keir Starmer, was the Director of Public Prosecutions responsible for the “lighter touch” prosecution guidelines on assisting suicide introduced following the Debbie Purdy case, as referred to in our 2019 column. Perhaps this provides a glimmer of hope...

Both the Liberal Democrats and The Green Party have adopted a policy on assisted dying.

MDMD campaigning for a citizens’ convention

Because of the inability to make progress through the somewhat arbitrary Private Members’ Bill process referred to above, and in the absence of political will, MDMD is now campaigning for a citizens’ convention on assisted dying. In calling for this we look to the convention in France that met earlier this year and voted overwhelmingly in favour of a law. We cannot assume that the outcome would necessarily be the same in England and Wales (though opinion polls have consistently shown a large majority of the public in favour of a law, and one would expect that to be reflected by a convention panel representative of the population).

A properly established citizens’ convention would take the “burden” of conscience-voting away from MPs, reflect the wishes of the people, and the outcome could then be respected by all. On a smaller scale, we also look to the citizens’ jury that took place in Jersey and acted as the catalyst for the political process now underway there.


*Trevor Moore is Chair of the assisted dying campaign organisation My Death, My Decision. A summary of My Death, My Decision’s (MDMD) assisted dying campaign appeared in a previous newsletter article in 2019.




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