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 359.

    The law needs to change in line with public opinion. Tony Nicklinson demonstrated how cruel and insensitive it currently is. Parliament is just going to have to get its hands dirty and tussle with this so we can have a more humane response than we currently do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Fundamentally this is an issue of property rights, because if you own your own life (as your property), then you should have the freedom to dispose of your life/property, as well as choose others to dipose of your life/property on your behalf.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    Why is it that all the medical professionals who deal with people at the end of life are solidly against any change in the law? Maybe it’s worth taking seriously opinions formed from their wealth of experience of what it’s really like when people are dying. They are in the best position to know the kind of pressure which would be exerted to get the distress over quickly.

  • 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 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.


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