Assisted dying has been raised again as a major social, political and media story over the past few months, so we thought it would be helpful to set out our position as a group working for a more equal, ethical and secular Labour Party.
We want to see a more ethical and compassionate law on assisted dying in the UK that would protect the vulnerable but also allow mentally competent adults the right to die with dignity in a time and manner of their own choosing.
For people who are terminally ill or who are permanently and incurably suffering, who have made a clear decision, free from coercion, to end their lives and who are physically unable to do so themselves, we support a change in the law to legalise assisted dying and euthanasia.
We want to support Labour elected representatives working for a change in the law on assisted dying.
Currently, the needs and autonomy of patients are often disregarded. Many people are in fact helped to die by doctors or nurses but without the safeguards that legislation would bring. Compassionate doctors, who follow the wishes of their terminally ill or incurably suffering patients by assisting them to die, risk being charged with assisting suicide or murder. The current system also results in close relatives being faced with the immensely difficult choices of whether, knowing that it is unlawful, to assist a loved one who is begging for help to put an end to their suffering or not to act and hence prolong their suffering.
We do not believe that anyone should be put into the position of having to make such choices, or indeed into a position where they believe that they have no other option but personally to end the life of someone they love. The few terminally ill and suffering people who are able to travel abroad to die often do so before it would be necessary if they did not need to be still able to travel.
Being able to die, with dignity, in a manner of our choosing must be understood to be a fundamental human right – a position supported by the landmark judgment in the Purdy case, where our highest court ruled that European Convention on Human Rights can be invoked in relation to the end of life.
Legalising assisted dying would ensure that strict legal safeguards are in place and empower people to make rational choices over their end of life care, free from coercion. The choice of an assisted death should not be instead of palliative care for terminally ill people, but a core part of comprehensive, patient-centred approaches to end of life care.
Time and again courts have said that a change in the law is a matter for parliament to enact – this is, necessarily, a political as well as moral issue. Despite strong public support for a change in the law, the majority of parliamentarians have so far been reluctant to support moves to legalise assisted dying.
However, there are many humanist and Labour MPs and Peers who do support a change to a more compassionate law. This year, we will brief on the ethical case for changing the law to allow assisted dying, with appropriate safeguards. We will support Labour elected representatives who seek to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill and permanently and incurably suffering people who wish to die with dignity in a manner of their choosing.