Assisted Dying

The Party has a proud record of taking the lead in Parliament on socially liberal issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, and we should be doing the same on assisted dying. It is now eight years since Conference passed a motion in favour of this, but I have seen no sign of any follow-up action. Ed Davey, our new Leader, has made great play with the need to listen to the public and act on their concerns. Well, assisted dying is a case in point. The public’s support for changing the law to permit assisted dying has been rising steadily, and in the last five years, polls have shown it at over 80%. Let’s listen to that.

It is not just that the public is massively supportive. The main opposition has also been crumbling. The medical profession is coming round, with Paul Cosford, the former medical director of Public Health England, is the latest to show support, and on the religious front two former Archbishops, George Carey and Desmond Tutu, are among those who have spoken out in favour. The recent book ‘Last Rights’ has described in detail the kind of deaths that people have to face in the absence of law change – over 6,000 people a year are dying in pain and without dignity. How long are we going to go on condemning people to suffer unnecessarily like this? Palliative care has made great advances but cannot help in every case. I have been assisting the campaign personally for nearly ten years, spurred on by my wife’s Parkinson’s disease.

Is the UK going to be almost the last bastion of the cruel status quo? Canada and, in Australia, the States of Victoria and Western Australia have legislated to permit assisted dying, and New Zealand is holding a referendum on the subject this month. Closer to home, Ireland is moving in the same direction as is the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. Moreover, the Scottish Parliament has a Bill on the stocks.

In nearly all these countries the legislation is strictly limited to benefitting people of sound mind, with a terminal illness and a diagnosis of less than six months to live, and of course, those who want to be in control and die with dignity; strong safeguards are incorporated in the form of medical and judicial certification. It is on this basis that the campaign for law change in England and Wales has been, and will be, put before Parliament. (Only Canada has gone wider and legislated to cover people with non-terminal illnesses.)

This is an important socially liberal change, the door is half-open, and the Party should be lending our weight for the last push to ensure the law is changed in the current Parliament.

* Party member and Liberal voter for over 60 years, ex Civil Servant, now aged 85

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Jason Dixon 7th Oct '20 - 1:18pm

    It was disappointing to hear that Ed Davey is opposed to legalising assisted dying; I believe strongly that people should have the ability to choose, under certain circumstances.

    There is strong support with society and the party for legalisation, so I would hope that Ed’s own opposition does not stop the party as a whole pressing for change.

  • Suicide is a problem, not a solution.
    All the talk of ending life because “it is not worth living” simply reinforces suicidal ideas.

  • I agree with the article. For several years I have been a paid up member of the Campaign for Assisted Dying, and mention them on my website.

    I cannot tell from the article whether “Conference passed a motion in favour of this” made it Lib Dem Party Policy. If not, I would welcome someone formally proposing such a motion at a future conference.

    We should not be embarrassed about leading on this issue. Our Party Leader Ed Davey is free to have his views, but our Party’s policy is decided democratically.

  • “our Party’s policy is decided democratically.”

    That’s a very big claim given that only about 1% of the party’s official membership saw fit to take part in the online Conference….. and all the usual reasons for non-attendance (distance, cost of travel & accommodation) didn’t apply.

  • I think not just assisted dying but also much much better and vastly more dignified end of life care. It’s been my experience to have had to watch two parents slip away after relatively minor illnesses while stuck in over heated, messy, noisy and undignified hospital wards. Both ultimately passed away in hospital from hospital acquired conditions.

    Surely now is the time to campaign for a dignified hospital environment, Back to basics on cleanliness and tidiness and at least part of this must be to do away with germ and nuisance infested communal wards toward single occupant rooms.

    Mum’s biggest fear throughout was that she would be kept alive against her will in a vegetative state / that didn’t happen, she slipped away while recovering well.

    I agree with lad for terminal cases, but think otherwise healthy people with suicidal intent may need at least additional intervention.

  • I find it very interesting that in my line of work we have mandatory suicide prevention training, and are expected to call blues and twos for people who may disclose suicidal intent though they have mental k9k capacity.
    Yet there is a movement for state delivered suicide. ‘they’ will say the act of parliament will only be for terminal patients and with a sign off from a doctor. Then it will be for anyone who has a physical disability they can’t live with….still with a doctor’s sign off.Then the act will be amended again …..why should I need a doctor to sign off my right to end my life.. Then it will be people with chronic depression, then it will be children who are terminal, with parent and doctor’s sign off. Then the act will be amended again to allow children equally rights to euthanasia. So why should I send blues and twos out to someone who has capacity who has been suicidal for years who calls and says they have taken an overdose, adult or child?
    For those who say it would only be for terminal illness with protection and certainly not depression and certainly not children, look to how the law has changed in the countries that started with ‘only for terminal illness’ it is moving fast, they haven’t killed a child……yet , because she killed herself before they said yes.
    What price life when the state will happily kill you?

  • Toby Keynes 8th Oct '20 - 9:39am

    @Mohammed Amin: “I cannot tell from the article whether “Conference passed a motion in favour of this” made it Lib Dem Party Policy. If not, I would welcome someone formally proposing such a motion at a future conference.”
    Yes, party policy is determined by motions passed at Conference, so the Assisted Dying motion that was adopted by Conference in September 2012 is party policy.
    You can find the full text of the policy at
    Of course, that policy is now eight years old and there has been huge progress in the adoption of assisted dying rights in various countries round the world, so the policy could do with updating.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Oct '20 - 6:55pm

    As long as suicide remains legal as it should, assisted dying should be an option for those who cannot act in this regard. Otherwise these unfortunate people are denied a right that the rest of us have.

  • Peter Hirst hits the nail on the head. For me this is a profoundly Liberal issue.
    To Alan Jelfs and others I would say that of course we must always do what we can to support people with suicidal thoughts, i.e. make sure they have places they can turn to talk about it and receive whatever therapy they want. But at the end of the day if someone does want to end their life it is their decision, and they deserve the same consideration and support at that point too.
    The alternative – forcing a person to live a life that they have decided they don’t want to live – is cruel and inhumane, and certainly illiberal.

  • Jason Dixon 9th Oct '20 - 3:01pm

    @Tynan, let’s focus on the here and now, and not fret about what happens in the future. It is clear that people want more end of life choice from every poll that has been conducted and it is important that is delivered.

    Where we go after that is an argument for another day.

  • Angela Kilenyi 9th Oct '20 - 5:18pm

    Well done Alastair Gordon for laying out the case so succinctly. When over 80% of the population has been shown time and again to want change to the cruel and inhumane status quo we have in the UK, why on earth aren’t we taking this bull by the horns? it would certainly increase our share of the vote in one fell swoop.

    And , as you say, if Ed Davey wants to listen, what better topic is there? Death comes to us all and we should have control when we know the end is nigh. I had planned to accompany my husband to Dignitas last year but at the last minute he was too ill to travel and suffered a very difficult and painful end which traumatises me still.

    Yesterday the British Medical Association published the results of its vote on assisted dying and 61% of doctors want the BMA to drop its opposition to assisted dying and 50% of GPs are personally in favour. Change is in the air! Let’s not be dragged kicking and screaming.

  • Anthony Acton 9th Oct '20 - 8:01pm

    “What price life when the State will happily kill you?” says Tynan. I’m glad to see you are allowing a freer debate here than that following the recent post advocating abortion on demand, where my comment daring to suggest limits on that proposition was monitored out. These are such sensitive issues of conscience that no political party which is serious about winning power would ever endorse one side of the argument until there is overwhelming popular support for it. In any case, I rather doubt whether making death one of the party’s flagship policies would do much to move us above our present 5% in the polls.

  • Jason Dixon 9th Oct '20 - 9:06pm

    @Anthony Acton There is overwhelming popular support for assisted dying:

  • Jason, no it’s not and that’s my point really, any original act for euthanisia for the terminally ill will be poked and prodded and tested in court. Parliament will debate extensions and ‘liberalisation’ of the original act will take place.. Each small step will seem like the obvious thing to do in the name of equality. And then if we are not carefully we will be arguing that euthanising depressed children is the right and Liberal thing to do, it’s already beginning to happen in the countries that started with ‘only for the terminally ill ‘ each small step seems like an obvious and liberal amendment…… If we don’t consider where this could go now then it will only seem like a small and obvious change at the time. And if we unleash this, within a few years , non terminal, chronic depression and ultimately child euthanasia will be on the statute book and we will think we are a liberal progressive society.

  • Jason Dixon 10th Oct '20 - 1:13am

    @Tynan that was exactly your point, you seem to want to to maintain a draconian blanket ban for fear of what may be legislated for in the future.

    And my response still stands, that’s a discussion for then. Focus today on what is reasonable legislation in terms of giving choice to the terminally ill and incurably suffering.

  • Jason, there has also been large majority opinion polls in favour of the death penality, there is arguably a majority opinion in favour of Scottish independence or at least another referendum. People who, seem to me, are far more intelligent and informed than me, have often argued on this site that going with the majority is not necessarily the correct thing to do, though it may be easier if you agree with the majority.

  • Jason, I don’t think we are going to find common ground, but if you open the door, and

    I think it will be opened, don’t think you are not responsible for what comes through,’ that was not our intent’ will be thin gruel.

  • @Tynan I hear your point, but for me the status quo is causing too much unnecessary suffering for people who desire another option. Something needs to change.

  • Alexander Pandolfo 16th Oct '20 - 3:47pm

    I urge the Liberal Party to compassionately review the model of assisted dying working in Canada following a judicial ruling . I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago. There’s is no cure or treatment . I watched my father tortured by MSA dementia fir five years . It was an horrific life and death . Why should we be forced to face this if we don’t wish to. My Death My Decision commissioned a poll last year , which clearly demonstrates support for assisted dying the same as that in Canada MDMD is supported by The Right To Die With Dignity U.K. Humanist UK and Scotland , MDMD Wales and Friends At The End Scotland

    I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago and fortunately I’m in a financial situation that’s permitted me to successfully apply for a humane voluntary assisted death at Lifecircle ta a time of my choosing , whilst I still have capacity,

    The most socially and economically deprived have no choice but to suffer . This surly is contrary to Liberal values ✌️

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