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Matt Hancock backs Commons vote on legalising assisted dying

Former health secretary Matt Hancock (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Former health secretary Matt Hancock (Jonathan Brady/PA)

MPs should have the opportunity to vote on whether assisted dying should be legalised in the UK, former health secretary Matt Hancock has said.

The Conservative former minister called for a Commons vote as MPs debated a petition proposing that assisted dying should be legalised for “terminally ill, mentally competent adults”.

The petition hosted on Parliament’s website received more than 155,000 signatures before it closed.

MPs rejected proposals to legalise assisted dying in 2015, when the Commons last had the chance to debate reforms to the law.

In recent years, lawmakers in some US states, Australia and several European countries have legalised the practice.

Mr Hancock told the Westminster Hall debate: “It is seven years, as many have mentioned, since we last had a substantive vote on this subject.

“Since then, out of the 650 members of this Parliament, over 200 have changed. The composition of Parliament has changed, and many members have not had the opportunity to consider this question and express their view.

“I can speak as a former health secretary to say that the medical movement as a whole is changing its view and I think it is appropriate that we raise this question in a voteable manner on the floor of the House of Commons once again.

“I can’t see how the minister can argue other than that we need an informed, compassionate debate on the floor of the House of Commons. For 50 years we have had a legal choice over who to love, for a decade we have had a legal choice over who we can marry.

“So let’s have an informed debate over when the end is inevitable and when the pain is insufferable, how we die.”

Assisted Dying Debate
MPs at the Westminster Hall debate to discuss reforming the law around assisted dying (UK Parliament/PA)

Other MPs gave their backing to legalising assisted dying, with Conservative former minister Andrew Mitchell describing himself as a “convert to the cause”.

He said: “My own mind has been changed on this over the years, principally as the result of the number of constituents I have spoken to who have faced terrible suffering at the end of life, or who have witnessed their loved ones dying in painful and undignified circumstances.

“I want this to change for my constituents, I want it for myself and I want it for those whom I love.”

Opening the debate, Labour MP for the Gower Tonia Antoniazzi called on ministers to properly fund palliative care alongside introducing assisted dying in law as part of “a grown-up conversation about death”.

She said: “There will be those on the Government side who stand up today and say they are campaigning for dying well. Now if that is the case, you are in a position to make that happen, so please do.

“The palliative care system has been underfunded, please don’t try and say about dying well when you can do something about it.”

But Conservative MP for Devizes Danny Kruger claimed that legalising assisted dying could lead to “utilitarian” healthcare decisions being taken by doctors under pressure to bring down care costs.

Mr Kruger said: “I suggest that if members think we can prevent people being put on the pathway to assisted dying by good drafting or because doctors are good people, which obviously they are, we should think about the do-not-resuscitate scandal we had in the pandemic, we should think about the Liverpool care pathway and then suggest that there is no risk – I think there is.

“I know doctors are good people who want the best, but if we force them to make utilitarian decisions about the best use of resources, won’t they push people in this direction?”

Mr Kruger also said he worried about unwell or elderly people who felt like a “burden” to their families, adding: “Talk to any hospice manager and they will quietly confirm it: there are a lot of people who want granny or grandpa to hurry up and die.”

However, after an intervention from Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine, Mr Kruger acknowledged the “overwhelming majority” of people wanted assisted dying laws for the “best of intentions”.

YouGov polling conducted last year for the charity Dignity in Dying suggested 74% of British people wanted Parliament to back a bill to legalise assisted dying at the time, and 70% wanted to see assisted dying legalised by the next general election.

Responding to the debate, Justice Minister James Cartlidge said: “The Government’s view remains that any relaxation of the law in this area is an issue of individual conscience and a matter for Parliament to decide.

“To be clear, this does not mean Government does not care about the issue at hand, far from it.

“It is that the ultimate decision on whether to change the law is for Parliament to decide in the tradition of previous matters of conscience that have come before the House.”

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