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Assisted Dying: An Issue of Conscience for MPs

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Assisted suicide and the law that governs compassionate acts to assist another to die at their request will be debated in the House of Commons on 27 March at a Backbench Business Committee debate secured by Richard Ottaway MP.

Despite these issues being high on the media agenda, they haven't been discussed in the House of Commons since 1998, and shockingly haven't been fully debated in the commons since 1970; less than a decade after the Suicide Act came into force. The motion for debate will ask MPs to welcome the flexible approach that the DPP takes in cases of compassionate assistance to die.

The issues surrounding assistance to die have long been considered issues of conscience for parliamentarians - MPs are asked to vote freely and based on their own conscience.

Given that this is the case for a number of issues considered by parliament, I believe that before we are asked to vote for our parliamentary representatives, prospective MPs should be setting out how they think their conscience will affect how they vote on such issues in the future. The legalisation, or not, of assisted dying is likely to affect us all and the choices we are allowed to make when we face the end of our lives. This decision will ultimately come down to a vote, the success of which will be solely down to the consciences of 650 elected representatives.

Whatever MPs views on assisted dying and whether dying Britons should have the choice of an assisted death in the UK, I cannot believe that any MP will find their conscience taking them in the direction of voting against Richard Ottaway's motion on 27 March. His motion simply welcomes the approach the DPP has taken in his guidelines for prosecution, which provide a flexible approach to sentencing in cases of assisted suicide.

In reality, it means that people like Geraldine McClelland's siblings, who accompanied their terminally ill sister to Switzerland so that she could have the death she wanted, know in advance that they are unlikely to face prosecution for breaking the antiquated 1961 Suicide Act, out of compassion. The guidelines make it very clear that maliciously encouraging someone to die will result in prosecution.

I know that there will be a number of people in the viewing gallery at the debate who have accompanied a loved one abroad to die, and I cannot believe that MPs will be able to, in good conscience, vote against the motion and effectively say to those people watching the debate that they should be in prison for making one of the most heart-breaking decisions of their lives and helping their loved one to have the peaceful and dignified end to their life that they wanted. But at a bare minimum, the debate provides MPs with an opportunity to catch up with the rest of society and debate this important issue.

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