Editor’s note. This is excerpted from a post written by Dr. Peter Saunders. Dr. Saunders is a former general surgeon and CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organization with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members.
The Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill of Labour MP Rob Marris was the eleventh attempt in twelve years to legalise assisted suicide through British Parliaments.
But its overwhelming defeat Friday by a margin of 212 votes (330 to 118) should settle this matter for a decade.
It is striking (and indeed fitting) that this happened the very day after World Suicide Prevention Day. The bill now cannot proceed further. It is dead.
There is clearly no chance at all of a similar bill passing through the Commons in the current parliament. Even in the (now) unlikely event of a Labour victory in 2020 it is virtually inconceivable that the views of MPs will change enough to make it likely in the next parliament either.
MPs dealt the bill a resounding defeat largely driven by concerns about the risks it posed to vulnerable people who would have felt under pressure to end their lives so as not to be a “burden” to family, relatives, caregivers or a society short of resources. Six in ten who die under a similar law in Washington State US give this reason.
Overall 74% of MPs voted against the bill, a proportion almost identical to the 72% who opposed the last bill of its kind in the House of Commons in 1997. So there has been essentially no shift in parliamentary opinion in the last 20 years.
Rob Marris conceded in a BBC interview after the debate that he did not foresee another attempt in the Commons in this parliament and in fact called on the government to invest more in palliative care, a move which I would strongly support. Patients whose symptoms are properly controlled do not generally want help to kill themselves.
You can read the full four hour parliamentary debate on Hansard and see reaction to the result on you tube along with my comments on what it means.
The Daily Mail has also given a full list of how MPs voted by party which I have reproduced below.
Overall out of 650 MPs, a total of 448 took part in the vote.
118 MPs supported the bill (27 Conservative, 72 Labour, 14 SNP [Scottish National Party] , 3 Liberal Democrats and 1 Green).
330 voted against it (210 Conservative, 91 Labour, 11 SNP, 3 Lib Dem, 1 UKIP [UK Independence Party], 8 DUP [Democratic Unionist Party], 3 SDLP [Socialist Democratic Liberal Party], 1 Independent).
Here are some preliminary quick reflections on how people voted.
1. This was a huge (almost unprecedented) turnout considering this was a private member’s bill debate on a Friday when most MPs would be expected to be in their local constituencies. It is a measure of how important they considered the issue to be.
2. Over half of all MPs (330) voted against it meaning that it would have been defeated even if all 650 MPs had been present.
3. More Labour MPs (91) voted against the bill than supported it (72) and the SNP and Lib Dems were more or less evenly split. This is hugely significant as it signals that assisted suicide is not a simple left/right political issue. In fact suicide prevention and protection of vulnerable people from exploitation and abuse resonate strongly with left wing politicians.
4. Most party leaders did not vote. Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) was not present. Nor was Tim Farron (Lib Dem), Angus Robertson (SNP) or Jeremy Corbyn (Labour). However all four had previously signalled their opposition to the bill.
5. Former Labour leaders and Blairites generally supported the bill. These included former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Leader (and recently acting Leader) Harriet Harman.
6. Medically qualified MPs were generally strongly opposed, notably former cabinet minister Liam Fox (Conservative), Sarah Woollaston (Conservative) and SNP health spokesperson Philippa Whitford.
7. Many current cabinet ministers opposed the Bill …
8. Other prominent MPs who opposed the bill included former London Mayor Boris Johnson, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, former Conservative cabinet ministers Eric Pickles and Peter Bottomley and former Labour Cabinet ministers Alan Johnson and David Lammy.
9. Former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer, now a Labour MP, voted in favour of the bill. Perhaps this explains his apparent reluctance to prosecute people whilst in office. It will certainly raise further discussion about whether or not his published prosecution criteria amounted to stealth legalisation.
This appeared at pjsaunders.blogspot.com.