Right-to-die law appalling, says Health Minister Anna Soubry

Anna Soubry Anna Soubry was appointed a health minister in a reshuffle earlier this week

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People seeking help to die should be allowed to obtain assistance in the UK, a newly-promoted health minister has said.

Anna Soubry told the Times it was "ridiculous and appalling" that Britons had to "go abroad to end their life".

She rejected euthanasia, but said "you have a right to kill yourself".

The Department of Health said the views were Ms Soubry's own, and the Ministry of Justice said there were no plans for the government to change the law.

It was a matter for Parliament to decide, the justice ministry added.

Ms Soubry, who was appointed a health minister in a reshuffle earlier this week, called for greater "honesty" over when people would be prosecuted over helping someone to die.

The Conservative MP for Broxtowe told the Times: "I think it's ridiculous and appalling that people have to go abroad to end their life instead of being able to end their life at home.

Right-to-die cases

Diane Pretty was terminally ill with motor neurone disease. She wanted the courts to give her husband immunity from prosecution if he was to help her die. In November 2001 the House of Lords refused her application.

Ms B was left a tetraplegic by a brain condition. She went to court because doctors refused to stop her artificial ventilation. The High Court ruled in 2002 that her request was valid and treatment was stopped.

Mrs Z, who had an incurable degenerative disease, wanted to go to Switzerland to die and Mr Z arranged it. An injunction to prevent the travel was granted to the local authority. The order was overturned in 2004.

MS sufferer Debbie Purdy challenged the lack of clarity on the law on assisted suicide. She wanted to understand how prosecutors would make a decision on whether or not to prosecute her husband if he was to assist her to get to Switzerland to be helped to die. Ms Purdy won her case and guidance was issued.

"You can't say to a doctor or a nurse, 'Kill this person' but.... you have a right to kill yourself.

"The rules that we have about who we don't prosecute allow things to happen but there's a good argument that we should be a bit more honest about it."

Her new department colleague, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, who was also appointed as a health minister in the reshuffle, said there was a case "for looking at reform".

"This is an individual decision of conscience - there's not a government policy on it.

"But I certainly think that we should debate it, the positives and negatives about reform, but I certainly, personally, think there is a case for looking at this."

Campaign group Dignity in Dying said assisted dying was an issue that Parliament "must address".

"Dying Britons who wish to control the time and manner of their death should not have to choose between suffering against their wishes or travelling abroad to die," a spokesman said.

He said Dignity in Dying was currently consulting - along with the all-party parliamentary group on choice at the end of life - on a proposed draft dying bill.

Former justice secretary Lord Falconer was committed to bringing a private members' bill in the House of Lords next year, he added.

'Sickening prospect'

In January, the Commission on Assisted Dying - led by Lord Falconer and set up and funded by campaigners who want to see a change in the law - said there was a "strong case" for allowing assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill in England and Wales.

But the report had a mixed response, with critics calling it biased.

Start Quote

Disabled people must speak up now before the minister starts trying to legislate against their equal right to exist”

End Quote Paul Tully SPUC Pro-Life

Ms Soubry's fellow Conservative MP Mark Pritchard said attempts to change the law would be met with fierce opposition.

"Parliament writes the laws of the land not the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] or individual ministers," he said.

"Any new right-to-die legislation will be rigorously fought by MPs from across the House.

"This is a slippery slope, which incrementally and over time, will reduce the 'right to life'."

And Paul Tully, of campaign group SPUC Pro-Life, warned that if assisted dying was legalised people with disabilities would be faced with "the sickening prospect that if they struggle with suicidal feelings they will be given help to die instead of care and support".

"Such a move would allegedly save huge amounts of public funds in the costs of caring for disabled, elderly and supposedly unproductive people," he added.

"Disabled people must speak up now before the minister starts trying to legislate against their equal right to exist."

The debate over assisted suicide has resurfaced after Tony Nicklinson, a man with locked-in syndrome, died a week after losing a legal bid to end his life.

Tony Nicklinson with his wife Jane and daughters Beth and Lauren Tony Nicklinson died at home surrounded by his wife, Jane, and two daughters, Lauren and Beth

He embarked on legal proceedings to clarify whether his wife would have been prosecuted for injecting him with a lethal dose of drugs.

Assisted suicide currently carries a sentence of up to 14 years' imprisonment.

His legal team argued that the current murder law would have infringed his right to respect for his private life as part of the European Convention on Human Rights.

But three High Court judges rejected his plea for the law to be changed, saying the issue should be left to Parliament.

He passed away days later, having refused food since the ruling.

The law currently draws a crucial distinction between doctors deciding not to provide or continue treatment, which might prolong life, and acting to end a life, by for example administering lethal drugs.

Start Quote

I am delighted that I am able to continue what Tony started”

End Quote Jane Nicklinson on appealing against the High Court decision

The British Medical Association (BMA) said its position was clear after a vote at its conference in June which opposed assisted dying.

Following the decision by High Court judges with regards to Mr Nicklinson, the BMA had said the court made "the right decision".

"The BMA is opposed to the legalisation of assisted dying and we are not lobbying for any change in the law in the UK," it said.

Mr Nicklinson's wife, Jane, meanwhile, has said she will appeal - as his widow and carer - against the High Court decision on his behalf because "nobody should have to suffer like Tony did".

Mrs Nicklinson, from Melksham, Wiltshire, said: "I am delighted that I am able to continue what Tony started."

She added: "It is too late for Tony but I hope that we can now help those who find themselves in a similar position."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    @430, Still avoiding the actual point of "does that in any way devalue life?", given the fact it is not illegal to attempt suicide.

    I don't believe it'll devalue anyone's life to make the actual legal standpoint clear - that is, make what is currently a guideline into the actual law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    To the obtuse of you out there that argue about animals and humans not being the same.
    The point is that we are perfectly able to and choose to end the suffering of beloved pets and animals in a humane manner, but we do not afford fellow human beings the same compassion.
    We all fully understand it is not the animal's choice but surely when a human has a choice they given this option.

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    It's YOUR life. YOU alone should decide when it's time to end it. Period.

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    424.Aidan C U Powlesland
    Our duty of care does not justify denying the terminally ill an end to woe

    =>When you're old, in your 60s or 70s and terminally ill. you may feel that no matter if a cure is somewhere on the horizon, you're just deferring the inevitable, said cure potentially revealing worse diseases. Finding a cure usually just means pushing the boundaries to new incurable diseases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    Thank God someone in government finally says something sensible on this subject (or any subject). Of course this lot do't have the wits to get something like this through parliament, but at least one minister has her head screwed on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.


    Since an attempted suicide can and often is legally detained under the mental health act for treatment ... the legality or not of suicide is not that clear. You can't be imprisoned or fined for attempting it but you can have life saving measures imposed against your will. So it's not usual practice t just let a potential suicide die, which would be part of assisted suicide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    @412 'Indication'
    Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90 or Samaritans.org.

    Non-partisan, non-religious, non-judgemental. For anyone feeling suicidal; deeply lonely, bullied, or depressed for any reason of any age. It doesn't matter - you are not alone, believe me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    While I agree that people should have a right to die and I have great sympathy to those wishing to die, is the best time to debate and spend time on the issue when we are currently in the worst recession since the 30's.

    As important as this issue is, I feel that MP's time could be better used towards fixing the economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    Geddylee There is a the 'slippery slope' argument in relation to assisted suicide. A little research would show the Netherlands originally adopted assisted suicide for those terminally ill, then secret euthanasia whether asked for or not, then lethal injections for some children born disabled who could have been treated, then suicide pills for 16 year old on request then tried to lower it to 12.

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    A big bonus for the insurance companies if legislation approving assisted suicide makes its way to the statute books.. will they pay out after years of collecting premiums?
    The propaganda is already out there that somehow we're all living too long.. how long before the Tories come up with a limited pension period after retirement? If they can no longer work, surely the poor should just die. Help?

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    There's a double standard in the UK. We'll export the problem, but won't allow our citizens to 'dirty our doorstep' with their unreasonable wish to die at a time of their own choosing.

    On a related subject, it can't be beyond the boffins to devise a computerised delivery system to assist those with 'locked-in syndrome' to make their own choices, so removing the need for euthenasia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    One danger is that a person choosing to die might, subsequently had they not died, have chosen not to die. For instance, if they had a terminal disease for which a cure was invented. But the person whose interest is most affected by the odds of such a putative cure is as capable of assessing those odds as anyone. Our duty of care does not justify denying the terminally ill an end to woe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 423.

    @418, LEGALLY, it is still ILLEGAL to help them. The guideline was issued in response to public opinion, thus the use of "suspect".

    That means, LEGALLY, the CPS could change their mind and prosecute.

    Making that guideline actual law takes it out of CPS hands, while in practise, nothing changes, and I would not be a "suspect".

    @421, you missed the point. It's not illegal to >attempt< suicide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 422.

    There is no right or wrong on this type of subject, only what people find acceptable to them. Yes we need people pushing for somebody to keep on living and we also need people who will help them die if that is what they wish. At least then both sides can be considered before a decision is made. What we don't need is for them to have no choice at all in the matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.


    It may not be illegal to commit suicide but if you're found medics will try to save your life, and even temporarily section you under the mental health act to do so. The idea of decriminalising suicide was simply that there is no public benefit to criminalising someone now dead, not to say hey everyone, why not kill yourself?

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    BBC. Could you rename "Have your say" as "Pot luck" given that there are rarely more than 2 subjects open to comment on ?
    Hows about a visual indicator for these ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    If a person wants to die , its up to them to make their peace with god . We should make death as comfortable as we can to those in pain and although this may sound crass to some but let them depart life with a celebration of the life they had rather than it being the terrible torment it so often is for people .

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.


    the new guidlines solve all the problems

    if your relative is too weak to kill themselves the law now allows you to help them

    as i said problem solved - why do these meddlers insist that they want the state to kill them instead?

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    @409, So what would be wrong about changing that line from guideline to law?

    That too "sounds very sensible", not least because in practise, the only reason that guideline came into existence was the weight of public opinion against the prosecutions of individuals who founds themselves caught in that grey area.

    @413, it's not illegal to attempt suicide. Does that devalue (any) life?

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    If someone of sound mind has reached the decision to die after a long period of reflection and consultation, what kind of society is that says no, your views do not matter.

    If doctor's do not wish to serve that persons wishes then fine put a system in place that bypasses the BMA - you do not need a trained doctor (comforting no doubt as it would be) to administer a dignified & painless death.


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