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MPs to debate right-to-die bill

Published 09/06/2015

Labour MP Rob Marris topped the ballot for a private member's bill
Labour MP Rob Marris topped the ballot for a private member's bill

A fresh effort to give some terminally-ill patients the right to die is to be launched in the Commons.

The Assisted Dying Bill will be based on legislation championed by former lord chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton, which would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to terminally-ill patients judged to have six months or less to live and who request it.

The Labour peer's controversial legislation ran out of time in the House of Lords but campaigners hope the new bill will give MPs the chance to consider a change in the law.

The measure will be steered through the Commons by Labour MP Rob Marris who topped the ballot for private member's bills, guaranteeing that the legislation will be debated.

The bill is expected to be debated on September 11 and Mr Marris said it could give MPs the first vote on the issue since 1997.

Wolverhampton South West MP Mr Marris said: "The public are clearly in favour of a change in the law and it is right that Parliament now debates this issue.

" Alongside the vast majority of the public, I am in favour of terminally-ill people who are of sound mind having choice at the end of life. It is a choice that I would want for myself and I do not think we should be denying this to people who are facing an imminent death.

"The House of Commons has not voted on this issue for almost 20 years. While the prospects of getting the law changed are difficult without official Government support, this is an opportunity to show we in Parliament are not ducking our responsibility to the public and I look forward to continuing the case for a compassionate assisted dying law."

Campaigners in favour of a change in the law claimed MPs could not ignore a situation which saw people travelling to Swiss euthanasia clinic Dignitas or committing suicide in the UK.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of campaign group Dignity in Dying, said: "It is great news that the House of Commons will now begin a debate on assisted dying which the public demand but have been denied because of parliamentary procedure .

"I welcome Rob Marris's commitment to show compassion to dying people and give choice at the end of life. As the first Commons private member's bill introduced on the issue, it is a signal to the new parliament that assisted dying is the pressing social issue of our time.

"With one person a fortnight travelling to Dignitas, and over 300 terminally-ill people per year taking their own lives in this country behind closed doors, it is vital that Parliament no longer turns a blind eye.

"The Lords demonstrated it is now a question of how, not if, we change the law and I look forward to Members of Parliament discussing the best law to protect vulnerable people but, crucially, give dying people choice."

Lord Falconer, now the shadow justice secretary, said he was grateful to Mr Marris for "continuing the campaign" to change the law.

Agnes Fletcher, director of Living and Dying Well, warned that the legislation could mean Parliament being asked to sign a "blank cheque" because of a lack of detail.

She said: "There are two questions on which Parliament, in the Commons or the Lords, needs to be satisfied in considering whether legislation of this nature is acceptable. The first is whether the law as it stands is actually in need of change. No serious evidence has been presented to suggest that is the case."

It was "patently not the case" that the law proposed in Lord Falconer's Bill - which will form the basis of Mr Marris's legislation - would protect vulnerable people, because it " contains very few explicit safeguards".

"The Bill leaves actual safeguards to be devised by others - but only after Parliament has agreed to change the law. This is unacceptable: the Bill is, in effect, asking Parliament to sign a blank cheque."

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