Assisting a suicide is a crime in the UK punishable by up to 14 years in jail, but guidelines drawn up by the former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer mean that those who help loved-ones travel abroad to die are unlikely to be charged if they are acting out of compassion.
Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of the Care Not Killing campaign said the vote was an “unequivocal rejection” of a “dangerous piece of legislation”.
“The current law exists to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed, or disabled from feeling under pressure to end their lives”, he said. “It protects those who have no voice against exploitation and coercion, it acts as a powerful deterrent to would-be abusers and does not need changing. “We hope Parliament will now turn its attention to the real issues facing our country of ensuring that everybody can access the very best care, regardless of whether they are disabled or terminally ill and that we fund this adequately”.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Rev Peter Smith, said the bill had posed “grave risks” to the most vulnerable people in society.
“There is much excellent practice in palliative care which we need to celebrate and promote, and I hope now the debate on assisted suicide is behind us, that this will become a focus for political action,” he said.
Speaking for the Church of England, the Bishop of Carlisle the Rt Rev James Newcome, said: “The vote in the House of Commons sends a strong signal that the right approach towards supporting the terminally ill is to offer compassion and support through better palliative care. We believe that all of us need to redouble our efforts on that front”.
But Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “The vote only goes to show just how ridiculously out of touch MPs are with the British public on the issue”.
“By rejecting the Bill Parliament has in effect decided to condone terminally ill people ending their own lives but refused to provide them the adequate protection they need”, she added.
“Suffering will continue as long as MPs turn a blind eye to dying people’s wishes. Dying people deserve better”. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, one of a group of faith leaders supporting assisted dying said: “We are saddened that it failed to progress, as it dashes the hopes of those who wish to avoid ending their days in pain or incapacity”.
We hope MPs will revisit the issue at a future debate, although it will be too late for those who face dying in distress right now”.