‘Take action’ and change law to legalise assisted dying, Prue Leith urges MPs

MPs show “a lack of courage” and “harm” their constituents by not changing the law to legalise assisted dying, Dame Prue Leith has said.

Speaking at a reception about assisted dying at Parliament on Tuesday, the Great British Bake Off host said: “One of the problems is, for many MPs, it’s far easier to do nothing.

“That shows a lack of courage but also a lack of understanding of what they’re doing, which is allowing harm to continue.

“It’s definitely something that’s easier for some MPs to sweep under the rug.”

The event, hosted by campaign group Dignity In Dying, brought together more than 200 MPs, peers and campaigners to discuss making changes to the law to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill patients.

Dame Prue, 83, is the patron of Dignity In Dying and a long-standing campaigner on the issue, having witnessed her brother David die a painful death from bone cancer in 2012.

In her speech, she invited MPs, peers and members of the public to sign a letter to party leaders asking them to bring forward a debate on the subject in the next parliament.

“Please pledge to take action. We have to make sure that next time, Parliament guarantees time for the issue to be properly debated,” she said.

“Across the UK, people have seen firsthand the many ways that the current law fails our dying citizens, just as I saw how it failed my late brother. Only Westminster can put this right.”

The event was attended by several parliamentarians including Independent MP Matt Hancock, Conservative MP Kit Malthouse and Labour MP Karin Smyth.

They were joined by Conservative former Cabinet minister Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Liberal Democrat Lord Goddard of Stockport, among others.

Mr Malthouse said: “I feel frustrated for the people who are dying in horrible circumstances every single day.

“I hope that my colleagues will focus on the human stories that lie behind every one of these horrific deaths and do what they can to help that.”

Labour MP Karin Smyth said the current law was “not safe”, meanwhile Lord Forsyth criticised Parliament for lagging “behind the people on this”.

Lord Goddard, who hosted the event, called for political parties to include a pledge in their manifestoes at the next general election to put forward a Bill on assisted dying.

Under the Suicide Act 1961, helping someone to take their own life in England and Wales is punishable with up to 14 years in prison.

Despite this, public support for allowing doctors to assist terminally ill patients to die has consistently remained around 80% between 1995 and 2016, according to the 2016 British Social Attitudes Survey.

Elsewhere, assisted dying is now legal in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and in 11 US jurisdictions.

In Scotland, an assisted dying Bill is currently being drafted, with the final text to be made available next year.

A UK parliamentary inquiry into assisted dying is currently under way.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity In Dying said: “The current law is not regulated, it’s not safe and it’s not fair. The public know this and urgently want change, yet successive governments have failed to prioritise the issue, nor allowed a free and fair debate.

“Assisted dying is a movement whose time has come. Nowhere is the personal more political than in matters of life and death. The next election needs to count for dying Britons, and party leaders should prioritise a debate on assisted dying.”