THE Health and Social Care Committee has published a report on Assisted Dying/Assisted Suicide (AD/AS). The cross-party group of MPs say their report is not intended to provide a resolution to the debate, but to present a broad body of evidence as a “significant and useful resource” for future discussions.

The report covers the current law, the Government’s role in the debate, international examples of jurisdictions where AD/AS is available in some form, the involvement of physicians, and assessments of eligibility and capacity to give informed consent, and palliative and end-of-life care.

The Committee identified the pursuit of high-quality compassionate end-of-life care as a common theme in the evidence it received. Also important was agency and control for the person dying.

Assisted Dying is currently being considered in both Jersey and the Isle of Man, and the Committee concludes that the Government should be “actively involved in discussions” on how to approach possible divergence in legislation between jurisdictions.

During the course of its inquiry, the Committee visited Oregon, which became the first US state to legalise the practice, and collected both written and oral evidence from international witnesses. The report concludes that many of the jurisdictions which have legalised AD/AS did so recently, with still much to learn as time passes.

Despite the UK being a world leader in palliative and end-of-life care, the report concludes that access and provision of such care is patchy.

It recommends the Government ensures universal coverage of palliative and end-of-life services, including hospice care at home, and more specialists in palliative care and end-of-life pain relief. The report urges the Government to commit to guaranteeing that support will be provided to any hospices which require funding assistance.

The report also calls for new guidance from the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association to provide clarity to doctors on responding to requests for medical reports for applicants seeking Assisted Dying/Assisted Suicide abroad.

More than 68,000 responses were made by members of the public through an online form, with more than 380 pieces of written evidence submitted to the inquiry since its launch in December 2022. MPs express gratitude to each organisation and each member of the public who contributed to the inquiry, including those taking part in roundtable events.

Chair of the Committee Steve Brine MP said: “The inquiry on assisted dying and assisted suicide raised the most complex issues that we as a committee have faced, with strong feelings and opinions in the evidence we heard.

“We intend the information and testimony we present in our report today to have a lasting legacy and, as we set out in the initial terms of reference, be a significant and useful resource for future debates on the issue. That could still be during this Parliament of course or after the next General Election.

“We’re particularly grateful to those who shared very difficult personal stories. The accounts were enormously helpful to us as we considered the issues involved and I’d like to put my thanks on record.”

The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who is a former Chief Nursing Officer for England, responded to the publication of the report. She said: “In over 20 years of working in the NHS, I witnessed first-hand the critical role that palliative care plays for patients and for their families. Particularly in my time as a cancer nurse in the capital, the difference I saw it make was deeply moving and inspirational in equal measure. This country has some of the best palliative care services in the world – but they are currently underfunded and overly-reliant on charitable donations.

“This is why I welcome the report’s call for the Government to ensure universal coverage of palliative and end-of-life services, including hospice care at home, and its recommendation that the Government commits to an uplift of funding to guarantee support for hospices in need of financial help. I also welcome the call for better mental health support for terminally ill people.

“In 2022, the Church of England’s General Synod members voted overwhelmingly to oppose a change in the law and the DPP’s guidelines on Assisted Suicide and called for adequate funding and resourcing of palliative care services. This is about offering compassion and direct support for the terminally ill, to ensure the highest possible standard of care for all.”

Bishop John Sherrington, Lead Bishop on Life Issues for the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in England and Wales also issued a statement in response to the report. Bishop Sherrington said: “Given that Parliament has already rejected any changes to the law on assisted suicide in 2015 and 2021, I welcome the decision of the Select Committee not to recommend the legalisation of assisted suicide. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales opposes its legalisation out of concern for the good of every person in society, the protection of this good in law, and the spiritual and pastoral care of the sick and dying. The act of assisted suicide violates the dignity inherent to every person’s life, which is to be cherished and cared for at all stages until natural death.

“As highlighted in the Committee’s report, experts have noted that there have been major problems in safeguarding the vulnerable and those without full mental capacity when assisted suicide and/or euthanasia has been introduced in other jurisdictions.

“Recognising the distress and suffering of those who are sick and vulnerable, I welcome the Committee’s recommendation that the accessibility and provision of palliative and end of life care needs to be improved – something the Catholic Church has consistently called for.

“For Catholics and many others, consolation and support in times of terminal illness can be experienced through prayer, the sacrament of the sick and the caring and compassionate presence of loved ones as a person prepares for eternal life. As Pope Francis has written, “human compassion consists not in causing death, but in embracing the sick, in supporting them in their difficulties, in offering them affection, attention, and the means to alleviate suffering”.

* Read the report here.

* Sources: Health and Social Care Committee, Church of England  and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales