Former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has controversially called for a public inquiry to consider legalising assisted suicide, during a debate in the House of Commons.
She called for a Royal Commission to examine the issue. A Royal Commission is a public inquiry set up by the Government with substantial powers of investigation.
Miss Hewitt’s call follows the publication last month of prosecution guidelines which state that people are unlikely to be prosecuted for assisting a suicide if they are “motivated by compassion”.
But when the guidelines were issued, it was made clear that assisted suicide remains illegal.
Miss Hewitt’s call for “a Royal Commission – an independent inquiry of that stature” to consider changing the law was made during an Adjournment Debate last night.
Miss Hewitt, who is a patron of pro-euthanasia campaign group Dignity in Dying, added: “If I am ever faced with the diagnosis of a terminal illness, I don’t know what choice I would make for myself.
“But I do know that I want that choice.”
However, this new call for a change in the law is likely to cause further alarm among pro-life and disability groups who already feel let down by the new guidance on assisted suicide prosecutions.
Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing alliance, has criticised the guidance, saying: “Anyone who takes part in an assisted suicide is going to claim they were acting out of compassion. The only witness who really knows will be dead.”
And Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said: “Many disabled people are frightened by the consequences of these new guidelines and with good reason.”
Earlier this week it was revealed that the Dutch Parliament is set to debate allowing elderly people who “consider their lives complete” to have non-doctors assist them in their suicide.
Holland has already legalised euthanasia for terminally ill people, and last year there were around 2,500 cases of people dying under the law.
But this new move comes as a result of pro-euthanasia group Of Free Will attracting over 100,000 signatures to proposals which include allowing non-doctors to administer lethal drugs.