Assisted dying ‘could be legalised in the UK within four years’

People in the UK could be given the right to an assisted death within this parliament, a leading Tory MP has told Sky News.

Andrew Mitchell believes there is growing support among MPs for a change in the law that would give choice to people who are nearing the end of their lives.

Previously, parliament has always voted against allowing any form of assisted dying.

But Mr Mitchell, who recently took up the role of co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for choice at the end of life, says minds are changing – including his own.

Andrew Mitchell believes parliament will vote to change the law on assisted dying
Image: Andrew Mitchell believes parliament will vote to change the law on assisted dying

“I was, as a student and as a young MP, adamantly opposed to assisted dying and over the years my view has changed completely,” he said.

“We need to make clear that we are not looking here for a massive change. We are looking for very, very tight reform.

“I think that given the very limited nature of these proposals; that it would be for someone who is within six months of the end of their life, with very strong safeguards, the decision being made by a High Court judge, by two doctors – I think those limited proposals may command the support of parliament in the next four years.”

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His view has changed after hearing from several constituents who witnessed family members suffering in the final stages of their lives.

He believes only parliament can bring about law change after a succession of legal challenges over recent years have been unsuccessful.

Phil Newby, from Rutland in the East Midlands, was the latest person to bring a case to the High Court.

He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged just 43.

Phil Newby was diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged just 43
Image: Phil Newby has campaigned for the right to die

Six years on, his condition is deteriorating and he wants to enjoy the time he has left with his wife and daughters.

He said: “I’m reconciled to the fact that my life is going to be foreshortened by a large amount, but I think part of living a good life is not living in fear – and living in fear of a long, drawn out, unpleasant, horrible death is taking away a good quality of life.”

Earlier this year, his case was rejected by the Court of Appeal.

“It’s quite clear they’re closing the door on this issue almost totally,” he said. “It’s a calamity for people in a certain situation.”

The campaign to legalise assisted dying may have growing public support, but people opposed to any change in the law argue vulnerable people could be put at risk.

Sian Vasey, who campaigns on behalf of a group of disabled activists, said: “I would be very scared if a doctor said to me; ‘Well, you know, would you like to consider ending your life?’

“I think, quite honestly, it will extend massively and I think we are right to feel worried about it, and to be saying absolutely not.

“It’s not a good thing for humanity really. It’s a very discouraging idea that basically [you] go to the doctor and you can negotiate your death.”

Sian Vasey, campaigns on behalf of a group of disabled activists, is opposed to a change in the law
Image: Sian Vasey is opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying

People who fear a slippery slope point to Belgium and the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002.

Over the years, an assisted death has become an option for increasing numbers of people.

In Belgium, a request can be granted as long as doctors are convinced a patient’s suffering is unbearable.

The right to die can also be granted to patients with mental illness.

In Antwerp, Amy de Schutter is in her 30s and physically well. But three doctors agreed her mental suffering, due to depression and autism, is unbearable.

She’s been granted the right to die whenever she wants.

“I don’t want to die but I don’t want to live like this,” she said.

“There’s always chaos in my head and I cannot find peace of mind – never, never, never. It never stops.”

Amy de Schutter has been granted the right to die
Image: Amy de Schutter has been granted the right to die

She spent years locked in psychiatric institutions as a teenager. She had attempted to take her own life on numerous occasions before her euthanasia request was granted.

Ms de Schutter said: “In my case it was very important that I would be able to decide. And that people said; ‘Okay, we understand your pain.’

“I need to be able to say: ‘OK, when I feel like it’s getting really, well, really bad, I can just talk about euthanasia.’

“I can talk about the date, I can talk about the funeral, how I want it.”

She hasn’t yet set a date for her death and is aware her case raises questions about whether the state should be granting people in her position the right to end their lives.

But she says she’s grateful to live in a country where she has the right to choose.

Ms de Schutter said: “Don’t judge people who are asking [for] it and if, like in the UK, it’s not even possible to ask [for] it, you can ask yourself the question – are we actually helping people here or just (letting) people suffer?”

Amy de Schutter (left) talks to Sky's Becky Johnson
Image: Ms de Schutter (left) talks to Sky’s Becky Johnson

Dr Theo Boer, a professor of healthcare ethics, spent a decade working as part of a panel that approved deaths by euthanasia in the Netherlands.

He has now changed is mind and is opposed to all forms of assisted dying.

He said: “Euthanasia has evolved from, in the beginning, a last resort in the case of a terminal illness to prevent a terrible death – to euthanasia in a number of cases to prevent a terrible life.

“So, in the beginning, it was a choice between dying and dying – and now it has increasingly become a choice between dying and living. If you open it up to some categories of patients, other categories of patients will have a right to say; ‘Well, why not for me?'”

Mr Mitchell insists that wouldn’t happen in the UK.

“I want legislation that is absolutely clear,” he said.

“People who fear the thin end of the wedge, slippery slope argument can be reassured and they can be reassured on this count: that once parliament passes a very limited law, they would have to go back to parliament to get that law changed.

“The legislation would be tight, it would be clear and it would be agreed by MPs. Members of the House of Commons don’t want there to be a slippery slope on this legislation either.”

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email [email protected] in the UK.

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