British government vows conscience vote on assisted-suicide law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 6:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 6:01am


The British government would not oppose legislation that would permit assisted suicide, the justice ministry said yesterday as parliament prepared to examine a bill.

The governing coalition would not order its parliamentarians to block the proposals and instead they would be given a free vote according to conscience, a spokesman said.

The draft legislation would come before parliament in the next four months, The Sunday Telegraph newspaper said.

It remains a criminal offence, punishable by up to 14 years' jail, to help someone take their own life, under the 1961 Suicide Act.

Four years ago, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), who heads England's state prosecution service, issued guidelines that said anyone "acting out of compassion" while helping a loved one to die was unlikely to be charged.

Since then, close to 90 such cases have been examined and no charges brought, The Sunday Telegraph said.

Prime Minister David Cameron of the centre-right Conservatives and his deputy Nick Clegg of the centrist Liberal Democrats have voiced opposition to amending the law.

But a ministry spokesman said: "The government believes that any change to the law in this emotive and contentious area is an issue of individual conscience and a matter for parliament … rather than government policy."

Lord Charles Falconer of the opposition Labour Party is bringing his Assisted Dying Bill before parliament's upper House of Lords in the coming months.

It would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally ill patients who are judged to have less than six months to live.

Assisted suicide allows a doctor to provide a patient with all the necessary lethal substances to end their life, but lets them carry out the final act.

Euthanasia goes a step further, and allows doctors to administer the lethal doses of medicine. This practice is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

There have been several failed attempts in Britain to legislate on the controversial issue.