The Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill -
"The Marris Bill"
"The Marris Bill"
Update 18th September: What now? and thanks
The debate in the Commons and the vote which followed together send a very clear message that this Parliament is not minded to support the legalisation of assisted suicide. You can watch the debate, in whole or by speaker, on Parliament TV - or read the debate here.
Both this debate and a number of articles written by MPs since explaining their reasons for opposing the Bill demonstrate that most MPs truly understood the issues and concerns. For this we are indebted to a number of excellent organisations who have provided the resources to enable us all to lobby effectively and also to individuals who have inspired us to do so.
In response to the Bill’s defeat its sponsor, Rob Marris, graciously conceded that he did not foresee another attempt in the Commons in this Parliament and called on the government to invest more in palliative care - a call shared by our Bishops.
That said, it should be noted that some MPs who opposed the Bill did not do so as a matter of principle but only because they regarded it as unsafe in its present form. And there are still some organisations and supporters who have (variously) indicated that they would now seek to change the law through the Courts, seek a national referendum or even try again in Parliament. So the debate will continue and we need to continue to engage with it.
The courts: Must respect the will of Parliament
In their statement following the defeat of the Bill the British Humanist Association said:
‘Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that while it is willing to consider whether the lack of a right to die breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, it thought that Parliament should first have the opportunity to legislate on the matter. Today Parliament has declined to do so, and so the fight on assisted dying must now return to the courts.”
That is a misleading account of the Supreme Court judgment. The judgment indicates that Parliament should consider the matter and that its will would then prevail. See the first question in a briefing on the role of the courts in this matter provided to the Anscombe Bioethics Centre by Professor John Finnis.
Palliative care: The Access to Palliative Care Bill
What is very clear, from observation of the debate so far and from discussion with supporters, is that there are many who have been led to support the Bill by personal experience of poor care. It is, therefore, timely that Baroness Ilora Finlay, who is a specialist in palliative care, has tabled a Private Member’s Bill in the Lords to promote better training in palliative care and to require the NHS to ensure quality palliative care for all. You will find details here. The Second Reading is currently scheduled for 23rd October. So there is time to lobby Lords, MPs and Government and urge them to support the Bill and the principles underpinning it.
Thanks (and support!) are due to a number of excellent organisations:
and very, very special thanks and appreciation to
---- Please keep this matter in your prayers ----
Update 12th September
Thanks be to God this Bill was convincingly defeated yesterday.
You will find statements by Archbishop Peter Smith and Cardinal Nichols here.
118 MPs voted for the Bill and 330 voted against. There are 650 MPs in total so that means the Bill was defeated by an overall majority. Given that Friday is normally the day when MPs are in their constituencies or elsewhere and also that Private Member’s Bill debates are not normally well-attended, the number of speakers (over 70) and the number of MPs who voted is quite exceptional and clearly reflects the level of concern about this proposal.
You will find the record of the debate, including the voting lists here. (Click on the ‘Next Section’ at the bottom of the page for the rest of the debate and the votes.) A breakdown by party is available here. If your MP voted against the Bill please write and thank them.
Thank you to all who contacted their MPs about this Bill. It is clear from the debate that members were well-briefed about the moral and practical implications. Most speakers shared the concerns expressed by those opposing the Bill and some were persuaded by the arguments against the Bill as the debate progressed. The speech by Dr Philippa Whitford has been particularly commended.
Thanks also to all who prayed for this outcome. Your prayers have been most generously answered.
It is clear that many of those who supported the Bill were drawn to do so as a consequence of distressing personal experiences including, in some cases, inadequate care. Please keep them in your prayers that they may find peace. And, as Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Smith have said, we need now to work for improved care for those approaching the end. We know it can be done well. We need to ensure it is.
A further update will be posted next week.
Update 5th September
The Marris Bill was formally published yesterday, just one week before the Second Reading debate and key vote. You will find it here.
This morning the Care Not Killing Alliance published two excellent resources. You will find them both here.
- The first offers an analysis of the Marris Bill; wrong in principle and profoundly dangerous in practice.
- The second responds to claims by supporters of the Bill that it is based on the law in Oregon and that all is well there. It clearly isn't.
There is one significant departure from previous versions of this Bill: The requirement that the person should be "suffering intolerably" has been removed.
There are two Bills aimed at legalising assisted suicide going through Parliament at present; one in the Lords and one in the Commons. Both are Private Member’s Bills. The Assisted Dying Bill, sponsored by Lord Falconer, replaces his previous attempt which ran out of time before the General Election. It is unlikely to make progress so the focus of attention now is on the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill which is, apparently, identical to Lord Falconer’s Bill. It is sponsored by Rob Marris MP and will therefore be debated first in the Commons. It is due for its Second Reading there on Friday September 11th. This marks the first full debate on this Bill and the first opportunity for MPs to reject it.
What does the Marris Bill do?
It makes it legal for a physician to assist someone to commit suicide provided he or she is expected to die within 6 months and is deemed both to have the mental capacity to make such a decision and to have made a free and settled decision.
What is the Church’s position on this Bill?
The Church is wholly opposed to any move to legalise assisted suicide. Cardinal Vincent Nichols has issued a statement on the Bill. This is it:
The intrinsic value of each human life will be gravely undermined if this or any bill to legalise assisted suicide were to become law. I urge Catholics, as active citizens, to contact their local MP about this most important issue before the vote.
Each of us is made in the image of God. The life of every individual is equally valuable (Genesis 1:27). Licensing doctors to supply lethal drugs to terminally ill patients to help them commit suicide rests upon the premise that some lives are worth less than others. It is therefore contrary to human dignity. It is also contrary to the ‘do no harm’ principle that underpins all medical practice. Helping someone to commit suicide compromises the fundamental human dignity of both parties involved. Assisted suicide is assisted killing.
Those who are seriously or terminally ill deserve the best care that our society can give and must never be made to feel that they are a burden. We seek to support people in these circumstances, to the best of our abilities and resources. Palliative and end of life care have undergone significant advances in recent decades and we urge the government to continue to develop these services.
A further profound anxiety has to be considered. If assisted suicide becomes legal, it will be impossible to ensure that people’s decisions will not be influenced by many kinds of pressure or coercion, not just from others but from within themselves.
The dangers inherent in changing the law are reflected by the significant opposition of medical professionals.
MPs will face many different pressures in deciding how to vote. We will keep them in our prayers.
How can I find out more?
Click on the 'further information' tab.
How can I help?
- Please write to or email your MP and urge them to attend the debate on the 11th September and vote against the Bill. You will find a quick and easy way to do this here: http://notoassistedsuicide.org.uk/
- Attend the rally outside Parliament on the day. Further information here: http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/events-reports/rally-against-assisted-suicide/
and please keep this in your prayers.
Enquiries to Pauline Gately: firstname.lastname@example.org