Assisted dying: MPs back campaign to allow end-of-life measures

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Ben Bradshaw said he did not want a situation like Aileen Currie’s death to be repeated

A former health secretary has voiced his support for calls to allow people to end their lives at home.

The Assisted Dying Bill would give the terminally ill the right to ask for their doctor to help them commit suicide.

The Bill was tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who used to be an MP for Norwich North.

The plans – which exclude end-of-life pain relief and medical equipment – face a fierce fight from Catholic bishops and campaigners.

The bishops of England and Wales have said they “express deep and profound dismay” at plans to legalise euthanasia in England and Wales.

Ben Bradshaw, the former Labour MP, previously supported assisted suicide in the UK.

I do not want the person who helped them end their life, or the person who pays for it to be prosecuted

Writing in the Guardian, he told of the grief he felt after hearing of the death of Aileen Currie, a former MP, by her husband in 2007.

Her husband, Sintore Belinda Currie, was prosecuted for assisting his wife’s suicide but was acquitted.

“It’s what I would have expected had I been Aileen Currie in 2007. A delay in the government deciding which way to go would have prolonged the agony and cost me untold misery, not to mention the disappointment of having an intervention snatched from me,” he said.

“A tragic situation that doesn’t have to end in despair.”

The Assisted Dying Bill will be debated in the House of Commons at a date to be announced.

When could the rules change?

The Bill has already passed stages in the Lords, and needs to be passed through the Commons before going to the Government.

Mr Bradshaw said he would not back any changes that “stigmatise or punish” the people who help patients commit suicide.

“We should have a law that emphasises compassion rather than retribution. Under this Bill, no-one would be forced to take a terminally ill person’s life. The decision would only be made by the patient themselves.”

According to the Bill, anyone over 18 years old and with a diagnosed terminal illness who is deemed “in terminal pain” can ask for the doctor to end their life, without being charged.

Anyone who helps the end of life would face a possible prison sentence of up to 14 years, and would also be barred from the further treatment of the patient for a specified period.

Should the Proposal pass, it is only anticipated that the Health Secretary – currently Jeremy Hunt – would be able to impose conditions on individuals who request euthanasia.

I am heartened by the fact that, thanks to advances in medical technology, some patients today can end their lives in their own home with dignity. Ben Bradshaw

This does not apply to anyone under 18 or someone who has Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Tansa Burrows, a consultant palliative care nurse at the Royal Brompton Hospital, told the BBC: “I know on the NHS we have already facilitated the passing of some patients in our care at home. And I would really be sad if that wasn’t available in the future.”

Campaign group Dignity in Dying said it would “vigorously oppose” any changes that undermined the Bill.

It said the Bill “does not believe in the legitimisation of assisted suicide”, and had previously also questioned some of the criteria set out in it.

When Norman Lamb’s Bill was first tabled last year, he described it as a “progressive, positive, non-aggressive” way of guaranteeing that assisted suicide would only be available to those “physically and mentally capable”.

Since then, some MPs have come out in favour of assisted suicide, especially in the context of a worsening shortage of specialist palliative care nurses.

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