MP speaks against Assisted Dying Bill

Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert spoke out strongly against the Assisted Dying Bill in the Commons on Friday (11 September), warning that the legislation would have led to "a line being crossed."

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The MP was one of a majority of MPs who spoke against the Private Member's Bill which was decisively rejected in a free vote by 330 votes to 118.  The Bill would have allowed terminally ill adults to end their lives with medical assistance.

In a passionate speech, Mr Herbert challenged the claim by some MPs and campaigners that there was a "right to die", arguing: “If there is a right to die, why is it constrained by a six-month time period?  If there is a right to die, why is it constrained simply by the fact of having a terminal illness?”

The MP said, while the law now allowed people to commit suicide without committing a criminal offence, if someone else assisted that suicide, especially someone in the medical profession, then “a line has been crossed.”

Many MPs voiced concerns over the unintended effects of the Bill, fearing that vulnerable people would be coerced to take their own lives, but Mr Herbert also questioned what the "intended consequences" of the Bill would be.

He said: "Is it the wish of the House that there be more assisted suicides or fewer?  Do we think that assisted suicide, or suicide itself, is ever a good thing?  Several distressing cases have been adduced.  It is undoubtedly true that people might suffer and that, as [other MPs] said, some people might therefore be forced to go to another clinic [abroad] - a very few people, as a matter of fact.  It cannot be a sufficient justification for changing the law, however, simply to say that people are suffering.  The House cannot expect to legislate away all suffering.  We have to be absolutely sure that no more harm will be created by the legislation we pass.  If we enable more people to take their own lives - something that society and the law has judged should be a bad thing - will we have done a good thing?  Is that a good outcome for the Bill?  In seeking to alleviate suffering - a noble ambition - we will potentially enable more lives to be taken, and that surely cannot be a good thing.”

Mr Herbert concluded: “I have the gravest concerns about the Bill.  I am concerned not just that people might be coerced into taking their own lives, with someone else’s assistance, but that any more lives will be lost at all ....  That is why we should take the very greatest care before taking this fundamentally different step.”

Commenting after the Bill was rejected, Mr Herbert said: "I received a lot of correspondence from constituents about this issue, and opinion was divided.  As always I considered all the points very carefully, but in the end did not change my mind that to allow doctors to assist a suicide - which is what this Bill would really have done - would be quite wrong.

"No-one wants people with terminal illnesses to suffer, and I do not believe that with excellent palliative care this should ever be necessary.  In fact very few patients  indeed travel abroad to die at the Dignitas clinic, and fewer people still are actually prosecuted for assisting a suicide in this country.  To shift the law from a position where it discourages such a drastic step to one where it permits it would, I believe, be fundamentally misguided.

"As it turned out a decisive majority of MPs took the same view, so I do not believe that there will be a further attempt to change the law in this area for the foreseeable future."





1.    To read Nick’s speech see

2.    To read the Commons Debate see

Michelle Taylor