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ss triple helix - winter 2015,  Marris bill defeated

Marris bill defeated

Vote should settle the matter for a decade

Review by Peter Saunders CMF Chief Executive

The Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill (1) tabled by Labour MP Rob Marris was the eleventh attempt in twelve years to legalise assisted suicide through British Parliaments. But its overwhelming defeat on 11 September 2015 by a margin of 212 votes (330 to 118) should settle this matter for a decade. (2)

It is striking (and indeed fitting) that this happened the very day after World Suicide Prevention Day. (3)

Given the margin of defeat there is clearly no chance of a similar bill passing through the Commons in the current parliament and even in the 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.

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.

Conservative MPs opposed the bill by 210-27 with 16 cabinet ministers voting against. Labour MPs opposed it by 91-72 and Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists were more or less evenly split. This is hugely significant as it signals that assisted suicide is no longer seen as a simple left/right political issue. Suicide prevention and protection of vulnerable people from exploitation and abuse also resonate strongly with left wing politicians.

Marris's bill would have allowed assisted suicide for mentally competent adults (>18) deemed to have less than six months to live, subject to a series of 'safeguards' including a final decision by a High Court judge.

In a robust Commons debate (4) in which over 80 spoke, MPs were clearly 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.

The Care Not Killing Alliance (CNK) published two excellent guides (5) on the bill which were circulated to neutral and opposed MPs. CMF, both through CNK and in its own right, participated in a comprehensive campaign from the end of May along with other key groups (especially Not Dead Yet UK, Living and Dying Well, Christian Institute, Christian Concern, LIFE, SPUC, CARE, and No to Assisted Suicide) involving letter writing, media articles, media interviews, MP briefings and culminating in a powerful rally outside Parliament.

The result was a wonderful answer to prayer and a powerful testimony to God's grace, good strategy, excellent collaboration and hard work on the part of many organisations and individuals.

  1. Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill 2015-16, Westminster Parliament
  2. Defeat of the Marris Assisted Dying Bill - some reflections on how MPs voted. Christian Medical Comment, 12 September 2015
  3. World Suicide Prevention Day, IASP, 10 September 2015
  4. Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill, Hansard, 11 September 2015
  5. 2015 Bill Guides published. Care Not Killing, 4 September 2015
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