On World Suicide Prevention Day we recall Parliament’s historic rejection of assisted suicide in 2015

Friday 10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day. Every year, individuals and organisations around the world join together to raise awareness of what can drive some people to believe that suicide is their only option. Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy, and in 2020 alone there were 5,224 registered in England and Wales.

The following day marks exactly six years since the House of Commons last considered whether or not to legalise assisted suicide. The good news is of course that the Bill, tabled by former MP Rob Marris, was soundly defeated by 330 votes to 118. On a historic day, MP after MP from across the political spectrum took to their feet to slam the Bill. For its lack of safeguards. For the message it sent to the elderly, infirm and disabled. But most of all for its core principle – that some lives are worth more than others.

It was a resounding rejection of a dangerous proposal. But the campaigners eager to end the legal protections for some of the most vulnerable in society have not gone away.

The Marris Bill would have allowed patients thought to have less than six months to live to obtain drugs to commit suicide. The Meacher Bill, expected to be debated in the House of Lords next month, does the same. MSP Liam McArthur’s Bill for Scotland is expected to do likewise. None of them use the term “assisted suicide” of course; rebranding to “assisted dying” makes it much more palatable to the uninformed.

But our country already has some of the best assisted dying care in the world – through our much-envied hospice system. Perhaps that is why palliative care doctors are so implacably opposed to a change in the law – and to a change in stance from the British Medical Association, which even now is contemplating ending its opposition to assisted suicide and becoming ‘neutral’. How can you be neutral on whether or not to kill someone who feels they cannot go on?

Among the points raised in that passionate debate back in 2015 were the following:

  • – Labour MP Lyn Brown said the mere existence of an assisted suicide law would “make the vulnerable more vulnerable”, adding: “It will change fundamentally the relationship between a patient and a doctor”.
  • – The SNP’s Dr Philippa Whitford memorably remarked: “I have never considered, as a doctor, that death is a good treatment for anything”.
  • – Tim Loughton warned that an assisted suicide law risked “engendering a feeling of guilt amongst elderly people and those with serious disabilities that they are a burden on their families, on their carers, or on society.
  • – Andrew Bridgen MP said that “the right to die will very quickly become the obligation to die for vulnerable people”.

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What was true then remains true today. We cannot mark World Suicide Prevention Day whilst ignoring the fact that the threat of assisted suicide looms large once again.

Our society does not need assisted suicide. Our vulnerable need to be cared for, not killed.