Matt Hancock – 2020 Statement on Assisted Deaths Abroad

The statement made by Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, on 5 November 2020.

Issues of life and death are some of the most difficult subjects that come before us in this House, and the question of how we best support people in their choices at the end of their life is a complex moral issue that when considered, weighs heavily upon us all. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) asked an important question and I want to set out the precise position. Under the current law, based on the Suicide Act 1961, it is an offence to encourage or assist the death of another person. However, it is legal to travel abroad for the purpose of assisted dying where it is allowed in that jurisdiction. The new coronavirus regulations, which come into force today, place restrictions on leaving the home without a reasonable excuse; travelling abroad for the purpose of assisted dying is a reasonable excuse, so anyone doing so would not be breaking the law. These coronavirus regulations do not change the existing legal position on assisted dying.

As this is a matter of conscience, the Government do not take a position. It is instead a matter for each and every Member of Parliament to speak on and vote according to their sincerely held beliefs, and it is for the will of the House to decide whether the law should change. The global devastation of the coronavirus pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of high-quality palliative care, just as it has shone a spotlight on so many issues and, as difficult as it may be, I welcome this opportunity to have this conversation about assisted dying, as it is one of the most sensitive elements of end-of-life care.

I have the greatest sympathy for anyone who has suffered pain in dying or suffered the pain of watching a loved one battle a terminal degenerative condition, and I share a deep respect for friends and colleagues in all parts of the House who share and hold strong views. I am pleased that the House has been given this opportunity to discuss the impact of the pandemic on one of the most difficult ethical questions that we face.