Assisted dying could be legal in UK within five years, says Sir David Davis


As published by the Express

Assisted dying is likely to be legalised in the UK within five years, veteran politician Sir David Davis has said after publicly declaring his cautious support for the first time.

The former Brexit Secretary once opposed efforts to change the law because he believed that life is sacred.

But he changed his mind after “mulling this over for years” and considering the personal stories of constituents and friends.

Sir David, 75, spoke to the Express after sharing his position during a major parliamentary debate last week which saw 34 MPs give speeches over the course of three hours.

The Westminster Hall event was triggered by a petition backed by Dame Esther Rantzen, 83, who has stage four lung cancer.

Sir David said he supported efforts to legalise assisted dying as long as eligibility is strictly limited to people who are terminally ill.

He added: “I would think it will happen in the next five years.

“It’s notable that, apart from anything else, there were 200,000 people on the petition. That’s double what you need [to trigger a parliamentary debate].

“My hunch is that people other than me will be getting approaches from their own constituents about this sort of thing.

“The most influential thing for a member of Parliament is an articulate approach from a constituent. I suspect a lot of that will be happening at the moment.”

The MP for Haltemprice and Howden said several experiences had influenced his thinking.

These included a meeting with Rt Rev Bill Westwood, the former Bishop of Peterborough who supported assisted dying.

In another meeting, a constituent told him how her father, a successful local businessman with motor neurone disease, flew his family to Switzerland on a private jet before ending his life at Dignitas.

Sir David said that story made him realise that only a “tiny fraction” of his constituents could afford such a thing.

He said: “If we’re going to allow this, it must be allowed for everybody. It must be on an even basis because you can’t say one rule for the rich, one rule for the poor.”

Despite these encounters, Sir David said he “hesitated” over changing his stance due to concerns about the experience of countries such as Canada and The Netherlands.

The Daily Express Give Us Our Last Rights crusade calls for assisted dying to be legalised for terminally ill adults who have fewer than six months to live.

But some nations have much broader criteria which allows people to apply on the basis of “incurable suffering” or even mental health conditions.

Sir David said: “I really, really, really don’t want to see us go down the route…where it becomes a sort of voluntary suicide.

“You have under 30-year-olds ending their lives because of psychiatric or mental health conditions. That’s not what I’m about.

“It’s where somebody has a terminal illness and is in pain that I think this is something that needs to be considered.

“We have to do this carefully. We have to take days over the initial debate, the in principle debate, to establish how to position, then many days over the report stage.

“Otherwise you will find that if people go too far with this, if they go the Dutch route, then a lot of people who are currently sympathetic will abandon support.”

Opponents of assisted dying argue that any change would lead to a “slippery slope” where criteria is inevitably widened over time.

However, Sir David said he believed it would be possible for MPs to pass a law that would ensure it remains limited to terminal illness.

Parliament’s “doubt is its strength”, he explained. “It would worry me more if Parliament suddenly got into its head that it had to make assisted dying available under any circumstances. I would then not have changed my mind.

“It’s the very fact that people are very balanced about this argument that makes me more measured.”

MPs must have enough time to fully debate any proposed legislation to ensure the necessary safeguards are in place, the Tory MP said.

This would ideally happen through the Government introducing legislation, with a free vote, he added. If it happens through a Private Members Bill instead then it would be “down to the Government allowing time”.

Sir David said: “In this country it is really quite difficult to get changes of laws initiated. It takes a long time. So I think the slippery slope is unlikely to apply.

“Frankly if we were facing the circumstances in The Netherlands then we would be reversing it, we wouldn’t be advancing it.

“It really depends on Parliament having proper time to do it. Even governmental law doesn’t get enough time for consideration these days.

“You see lots of what I think of as sound bite speeches, three or four minutes long. That’s not what Parliament should be doing.”

He added: “This is about avoiding pain, at the end of the day. Avoiding pain, misery and, to some extent, indignity.”