MP leads attack on assisted suicide law

Former health secretary Patricia Hewitt has launched an attack on the law against assisted suicide.

The Labour MP has tabled an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill which would prevent the prosecution of individuals who help others travel abroad to end their lives.

Mrs Hewitt believes her amendment is unlikely to reach a vote and says she simply wants to prompt a debate on the issue.

However, campaigners are urging MPs to be “on their guard”, warning that Mrs Hewitt’s amendment would undermine the law’s deterrent effect and “open the floodgates” to cases of abuse.

Aiding or abetting suicide is illegal in the UK and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has said he is “totally against” legalising the practice.

Mrs Hewitt says her ultimate aim is to see assisted suicide made legal in the UK.

“In the long term we need a Bill to change the law to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults suffering at the end of their lives the choice of an assisted death, within safeguards, in this country,” she said.

“In the meantime, I hope that the amendment I have tabled will prompt the long overdue parliamentary debate necessary to bring the law on assisted suicide in line with the practice of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the courts.”

However, Paul Tully, General Secretary of Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, pointed out that Mrs Hewitt’s amendment is not restricted to the terminally ill.

He pointed out that the amendment “sanctions helping anyone to die – a teenager upset after failing exams or bullied at school, a businessman in debt, or a post-natally depressed mother”.

Mr Tully added that “the MPs who have tabled this amendment are threatening the lives of all suicidal people whatever problem they face”.

“This is a reckless and dangerous amendment that could lead to the deaths of many people,” he said.

Dr Peter Saunders of the Care Not Killing alliance said: “I hope and trust that MPs will be on their guard next week and see this amendment for what it really is: a cynical and disingenuous attempt to force the legalisation of assisted dying here.”

The Coroners and Justice Bill reaches its next stage of debate in the House of Commons on Monday.

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