Health Secretary says responsibility of role means she cannot give view on assisted dying

Victoria Atkins declined to give her personal view on whether there should be a vote on legalising assisted dying, citing her “responsibility” as Health Secretary.

Ms Atkins (pictured) recognised how “incredibly emotional” the issue is, but re-stated the Government’s line that it should be up to Parliament whether or not to have another debate on changing the law.

Dame Esther Rantzen, who has stage four lung cancer, has called for a free vote on the issue.

The Childline founder and broadcaster this week revealed she had joined the Dignitas assisted dying clinic.

In an interview with BBC’s The Today Podcast, she said she feels it is “important that the law catches up with what the country wants”.

Currently, her family could be prosecuted if they were to travel with her to a Dignitas clinic.

Ms Atkins was asked on Wednesday if it is time for another vote on assisted dying.

She told reporters: “This rightly is a matter for Parliament and for members of Parliament. It’s a matter of conscience.

“I feel very honoured to be the Secretary of State for Health, but I’m also very aware of the responsibility that brings and so it must be for Parliament, it must be for individual members of Parliament. And I shouldn’t be, I can’t be, drawn on my own views because I wouldn’t in any way want to pre-empt that discussion.”

Housing Secretary Michael Gove said on Tuesday he thought it was time for another parliamentary debate on the issue.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman has said the Government position has not changed so it remains a matter for Parliament to decide and “an issue of conscience for individual parliamentarians rather than Government policy — as it was in 2015 when the House considered it and rejected making any changes”.

On Mr Gove expressing a view, the spokesman said it remains “a matter for individual MPs, who are able to express their views.”

Ms Atkins described it as an “incredibly emotional” issue.

She added: “There are a range of views on this and we’ve seen obviously in the last couple of days some of the impacts that very, very long-term, life-threatening conditions have on people and their families.

“And so I very much respect that it is a matter for Parliament and a matter for individual MPs.”

Assisted suicide is banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

In Scotland, it is not a specific criminal offence but assisting the death of someone can leave a person open to murder or other charges.

The Health and Social Care Committee is due to publish its report into assisted dying and assisted suicide in England and Wales, having launched an inquiry in December 2022 to examine different perspectives in the debate.

Legislation is being put forward in Scotland by Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur.

The Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill is due to come before Holyrood next year.

A Bill to legalise assisted dying on the Isle of Man will be scrutinised by a committee next year before progressing to the next stage through the island’s Parliament.

That bill, as it stands, would apply only to terminally ill adults who have been “ordinarily resident” on the island for at least a year and who are reasonably expected to die within six months.

It passed a second reading vote in October in what pro-change campaigners hailed as a “historic” moment which they said puts the Isle of Man on the path to becoming the first part of the British Isles to see assisted dying legalised.

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