Times euthanasia poll of MPs is ‘out of date’

A poll reported by The Times newspaper which says MPs are in favour of weakening assisted suicide laws is based on old data and has been attacked as unrepresentative.

The poll, reported by The Times on its front page on Wednesday, was commissioned by Dignity in Dying, a pro-euthanasia organisation.

The data shows that 53 per cent of MPs were in favour of weakening the law on assisted suicide when the survey was carried out in June and July.

But since July several new developments have come to light which may have shifted opinion.

The Swiss have announced plans to clamp down on assisted suicide facilities amid concerns that their country is becoming a centre for ‘suicide tourism’.

The politician behind Holland’s liberal euthanasia law has admitted that care for the terminally ill has declined since the law was passed and that many patients opt for euthanasia “out of fear”.

And several prominent politicians including Jack Straw and Vince Cable have joined Gordon Brown and David Cameron in voicing their opposition to a change in the law.

The Times published the out-of-date poll on the day that a public consultation closed for submissions about new draft guidelines on prosecuting assisted suicide cases drawn up by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The question posed in the survey to 122 MPs was: “if a doctor in England or Wales helps a terminally ill, but mentally competent adult patient to die when directly requested to do so, by the patient, should that doctor be prosecuted or not?”

More Labour MPs (59 per cent) than Conservative MPs (34 per cent) said they believed the doctor should not be prosecuted.

The poll was carried out by Ipsos MORI between 8 June and 31 July.

A spokesman for Care not Killing, a pro-life alliance, said the poll was not representative, but: “What it does recognise is that this was a very complicated issue.”

The spokesman continued: “I am confident all those parliamentarians who responded would back our view that the maximum amount of discretion needs to reside with DPP in determining whether or not to prosecute.

“In terms of the draft guidelines, we are deeply concerned that the document as proposed makes a distinction between able-bodied people and disabled people, and that cannot be right in a civilised society.”

Dignity in Dying, a pro-euthanasia campaign group, pointed to past surveys which asked MPs about assisted suicide and said: “Whilst the questions asked across each of these surveys do differ, they provide an indication of change.”

On 7 July the House of Lords voted against weakening the law on assisted suicide.

Peers voted 194 to 141 against the plan to make it legal to help someone travel overseas to commit suicide.

In September Justice Secretary Jack Straw made clear his opposition to any weakening of the current law on assisted suicide.

Commenting on the issue in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Straw said: “I’m not in favour of changing the law.

“That would give a green light to assisted suicide, and my worry has always been the potential for abuse.

“I’ve had some experience of loved ones in the terminal stages of illness. I don’t think you should give relatives that discretion.

“I just think it’s wrong to consider assisting someone in suicide. It’s not something I’m willing to contemplate.”

Earlier this month a pro-life disabled campaigner, Alison Davis, launched a legal challenge in the Supreme Court over the DPP’s draft guidelines.

The draft guidelines were ordered following a Law Lords ruling on the case of assisted suicide campaigner Debbie Purdy.

Alison Davis claims the ruling was unsound due to “apparent bias” on the part of one of the judges.

She says in a letter accompanying her case papers: “The DPP’s guidelines are unfair, unjust and fatally discriminatory against suffering people, who deserve the same presumption in favour of life as any able bodied person would automatically receive.”

In October the Swiss Government published proposals which could close down its controversial suicide centre Dignitas.

More than 100 Britons have killed themselves at the Dignitas facility in Zurich.

Two options were presented to the Swiss Parliament, one of which would make assisted suicide centres illegal.

The other option was for tighter controls to be placed on suicide organisations.

The Swiss Justice Minister said: “We have no interest, as a country, in being attractive for suicide tourism.”

Ludwig Minelli, the founder of Dignitas, described the proposals as “outdated and patronising”.

The Federal Government has stated it would favour the regulation option but said it needs to clamp down on suicide organisations.