Parliament is unlikely to debate another Bill on the issue for years to come
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one shaking when MPs voted by a majority of 212 against assisted suicide this afternoon. The implications of the vote were enormous. For a moment it had seemed as if Britain was about to become a society in which suicide was prescribed on the National Health Service as a “remedy” for terminal illness.
What’s significant about the vote is not just that assisted suicide was rejected, but that it was rejected so overwhelmingly. This means that a Bill licensing assisted suicide is unlikely to darken Parliament’s door for many years to come. We have debated the issue vigorously in both chambers and the elected house has rejected assisted suicide decisively.
The lazy argument that the opposition to assisted suicide is driven by religious zealots has also been demolished. The 212 MPs in the House of Commons who gave up their Friday to vote with the their feet and walk through the No lobby were not a swarm of fanatical Bible-bashers – as funnymen like David Baddiel and Lee Hurst imply. No, they were doctors, nurses, lawyers, believers and non-believers.
The experience of both Scotland and now England and Wales demonstrates that, while legislators often feel a knee-jerk sympathy for supporters, when they examine the evidence they realise how dangerous assisted suicide is.
Only today, Ben Howlett MP said that the debate in the chamber changed his mind on assisted suicide and that he had decided to oppose the Bill.
Lord Falconer’s Bill will not be allocated parliamentary time now and so campaigners have hit a legislative cul-de-sac, leaving the courts as the only viable way forward for pursuing their case.
But the latest Supreme Court ruling on the so-called “right-to-die” simply encouraged Parliament to debate the issue – which it has now dutifully done.
Our elected representatives have held the “open and honest debate” that supporters of assisted suicide have incessantly demanded. Our judiciary must remember that when the next “hard case” stands before them.