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

Related Stories

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."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    One of the big issues is people who are physically incapable of committing suicide - often don't want to live that helpless - she neatly skates round that issue or even suggests they shouldn't be allowed to be helped. Politicians...

    I worry a lot about the pressure granny'll be under to leave the kids her house,stop being a burden with her needs etc-but we need to make it bearable for everyone.

  • 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 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 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Why is it that some people assume that if we were to relax the laws on assisted suicide we would be on a 'slippery slope' one thing doesn't have to lead to another and I don't believe we will suddenly be treating people like old cars and discarding them at the first opportunity and please don't use religion to justify your argument as we don't all base our way of life an ancient work of fiction.


Comments 5 of 27


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.