Mark Pritchard MP warns of right-to-die law change 'row'

A living will Assisting a suicide is illegal in England and Wales

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There would be "an almighty parliamentary row" if laws on assisted suicide were re-examined, Conservative MP Mark Pritchard has said.

The former secretary of the 1922 committee of backbenchers said Tory MPs would "not accept reform lying down".

His comments come after new health ministers Anna Soubry and Norman Lamb suggested there was a case for reassessing legislation.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said it opposed any change to the law.

Earlier on Saturday, newly-promoted health minister Anna Soubry told the Times it was "ridiculous and appalling" that Britons had to "go abroad to end their life".

Ms Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe, said those seeking help to die should be allowed to obtain assistance in the UK.

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

Her Liberal Democrat colleague Mr Lamb added that he also believed there was a "strong case" for the law to be reconsidered.

'Slippery slope'

However, Mr Pritchard responded by saying that attempts to change the law would be met with fierce opposition and would cause "an almighty parliamentary row".

"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.

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.

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

BMA president Baroness Hollins also criticised moves to re-open the debate, and made it clear the medical profession did "not support a change in the law".

Speaking to Sky News, she said: "To change the law would be to change the boundary between life and death altogether. That's a journey I just don't want us to even start out on in this country."

The Department of Health said the views expressed by Ms Soubry were her 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.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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: "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 331.

    And while we are on the subject - why do we continue to lavish care and expense on low life who repeat offend serious crimes - time they were dispatched - no use or contribution to a civilised society at all - total waste of time and resources. One or two stirkes maybe but three or more and you should be out - end of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    321. minsa
    enlightened bodies like the BHA
    Woah, thinking like that must be rapture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Want to understand the issue of Euthanasia better? I found this article very helpful:

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    Without believers and politicians, we wouldn't even been having this conversation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    The torture of terrorists or criminals is outlawed. Yet it is illegal to end the suffering of ordinary people suffering agonising pain or tortured by a nightmare like “Locked in Syndrome”. Most of the “Right to Life” brigade is conspicuously quiet when it comes to illegal wars in Iraq. Didn’t the Catholic Church welcome the unrepentant Tony Blair with open arms?

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    My concern is that any change to the law would start out as assisted suicide, but eventually this law would be used to commit murder. There may be many agendas that come into play, many that would not be in the interests of the individual. If the patient cannot communicate, who is to be the judge to say that they have no standard of life and therefore should be destroyed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    317 Keith

    You obviously have my deepest condolences, for what little that may be worth. I'm very sorry for your loss.

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.


    Read it again, slowly this time. I never suggested that the BMA makes decisions with religious imperatives. I said, is HOLLINS' VIEW representitive of the BMA and is HER VIEW being guided by a religious stance. I'm not shouting, I'm adding empahisis becuase I know you sometimes have problems with reading and comprehension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    @ 297 philhellenic
    Surely you must be aware of how much a large proportion of religion (if not all religious people) love human suffering. I mean really love it.
    Flagellation, fasting, genital mutilation, institutional child abuse and of course christian rock music.
    Suffering gets you closer to god. Whoever that is.

  • Comment number 322.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.


    ... not being convinced at the wisdom of 'right to life' is not the preserve of religious people.

    >>> While there will be dissenting opinions in any sizable groups, the bottom line here is that morally archaic religious organisations like the Church on the whole oppose right to die legislation while enlightened bodies like the BHA support it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    this is a emotive issue but we treat animals better than humans. if an animal is suffering we have no quams about ending its life in fact someone could be prosicuted for cruelty if they didnt. its time to take a look hard look at this and decide wether an individual can end their life with help or do animals have a better choice

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    288. Name Number 6
    Actually, when suicide was illegal the punishment was of the suicide's family, through confiscation of the estate. This meant that widows, children, et al. were always desperate to make it look like accident or murder so as not to be left destitute.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Surely the right to life is exactly that, a right to live your life as you please so long as you don't harm others. Since all life ends then a right to live your life as you please must also include a right to end it as you please.

    I suspect the VAST majority of viewers will support the right to die so all we need to do is ensure sensible safeguards are in place.


  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    Three hours ago my mother died peacefully of cancer at age 89 in a partly morphine-induced coma in the excellent Hove UK Martlets Hospice. But two weeks ago at home the pain was increasing, as was her fear of a death e.g. by suffocation as the cancer grew, and she was too weak to walk to the nearby cliff. My mother was scared. The law should be changed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.


    First of all regarding the comments you mention, in my view it's literally someone trying to stir things up and has been understandably downvoted.

    Secondly the revision to the law being discussed refers to assisted suicide requiring consent of the individual in question. I see nothing on the table regarding forceful execution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    287. Golgotha

    Wrong question, the real question is, is Hollins' view representitve of the BMA and are religious influences guiding her view?

    Oh come on. The BMA is run by committee, it has over 100,000 medical professionals in its membership. If you can find a scintilla of evidence that the BMA makes decisions with religious imperatives, I will be impressed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    293.Hippocrates - about time someone started thinking a bit differently. If we left it to David C and the rest of his narrow minded, dogmatic, self interested cabinet, the country would regress even further than it has already on his watch. No place for blinkered moralistic attitude - we need people in the cabinet who can see the bigger picture and are brave enough to suggest change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    There is a delicate balance between respecting the genuine wishes of a person to end their life and protecting those who may be vulnerable to exploitation by others with ulterior motives. Protection of life has to be paramount! It is surely more undesirable to open the door to the latter than to prevent the former by law to end their life voluntarily. Current laws should therefore remain in place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    If you have a pet that is suffering, then vets will euthenase the animal and that is wholly accepted by society. People are prosecuted for animal cruelty - yet a person who is so obviously dying and suffering, probably in great pain MUST BE LEFT TO SUFFER this can't be right.
    I wouldn't like to end my days like that.


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