Dorset's PCC wants the government to look again at the law on assisted dying

Dorset's PCC wants the government to look again at the law on assisted dying

Published by The Wessex FM News Team at 7:01am 27th October 2019. (Updated at 7:11am 6th November 2019)

Martyn Underhill is among 18 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to have signed an open letter to the Ministry of Justice.

It asks to launch a "call for evidence" in relation to the law around assisted dying.

Dorset PCC Martyn Underhill - who leads on the issue of suicide nationally for the Association Of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) - has coordinated the letter, which has been sent to Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland.

The letter states: 

"We believe it is time for a renewed look at the functioning of the existing law on assisted dying.
"While there are clearly differences of opinion as to whether or how the law should change, we contend that the law is not working as well as it could and seek an inquiry to confirm that."

PCC of Durham, Ron Hogg
PCC of Durham, Ron Hogg

Mr Underhill is leading the campaign on behalf of Ron Hogg, the Police, Crime and Victims Commissioner for Durham, who has motor neurone disease. 

Mr Hogg is calling for the law to be changed to allow him to end his own life.

He was diagnosed with the incurable, muscle-wasting condition in August, and has says he wants the right to end his suffering at a time chosen by himself, with his family. 

The letter, which has been signed by Mr Hogg as well as PCCs from a range of political parties, refers to recent high profile cases such as that of Mavis Eccleston. 

The great grandmother was acquitted by a jury last month after being charged with murder for helping her husband of 60 years end his own life rather than suffer further agony caused by advanced bowel cancer.

The letter states that the existing blanket ban on assisted dying 'has caused distress, confusion and pain for dying people, their loved ones, and even the investigating police officers themselves' and that 'the cost of these investigations - financial, emotional and societal - cannot be easily dismissed'.

Mr Underhill's letter points out that Justice Secretary Robert Buckland was asked in Parliament by cross-Party MPs to reinstate the commitment his predecessor had made to a Ministry of Justice call for evidence.

The letter adds:

"We echo these calls. We owe it to dying and bereaved people, and their families, to try and find a better way of dealing with assisted dying.

"Myself and other Police and Crime Commissioners believe a call for evidence will prove or disprove whether the law needs updating."

patient in hospital bed

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:

"We welcome the letter from the Police and Crime Commissioners and are pleased to have their support for a new investigation into the functioning of the current law.

"It is clear that the blanket ban on assisted dying is not working for dying people, for their families, or for the dedicated public servants who must enforce it.

Everyone should back this demand for a call for evidence so we can fully understand the law's effects and find a way to improve the situation."

However, Dr Gordon Macdonald, Chief Executive of Care Not Killing, commented:

"Changing the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia would require ripping up long-held universal protections, that ensures the law treats all people equally.

"Removing these protections will put vulnerable people at risk of abuse and of coming under pressure to end their lives prematurely."

If you have been affected by any issues raised in this story, you can contact The Samaritans in Weymouth on 01305 771 777.