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19 December 2014

Welsh Assembly rejects Assisted Dying Bill

Welsh Assembly rejects Assisted Dying Bill

Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill, currently going through the Committee Stage in the House of Lords, was debated by Assembly Members (AMs) in the Senedd on Wednesday 10 December. This Individual Members debate – an Assembly mechanism that allows for backbenchers to put forward items of interest outside of Welsh Government and opposition parties' time – was tabled by Simon Thomas AM, with cross party backing from four other AMs.

The motion proposed was that the National Assembly for Wales should support the principles of the Assisted Dying Bill. Although this is not a devolved issue, and with the results therefore not legally binding, Simon Thomas and the other four AMs felt strongly that the subject was of great importance and, as it affected the people of Wales, deserved to be debated in the Senedd. The motion however, debated over the course of an hour with 13 AMs contributing, met with resounding defeat: only 12 AMs voted in favour, with 21 against and 20 abstentions. 

This was a crucially important result, as a vote in favour from the Welsh Assembly would have given a boost to the pro-assisted dying campaign, and would have been used to further their cause. The Minister for Health Mark Drakeford clarified that Welsh Government did not have a view on this matter as it was seen as an ethical and moral issue, not one for government policy.

All 13 AMs spoke passionately, with Nick Ramsey AM saying that this debate, alongside another on presumed consent for organ donation, was the most emotive in the Assembly's history. Each honoured the Deputy Presiding Officer's request that the debate be conducted in a respectful manner with many also acknowledging the sincerity with which opposing views were held.

Simon Thomas AM, writing about the debate in a blog before the event, said: "It has begun, at last, a serious debate about how we balance medical intervention to prolong life against the rights of individuals to decide upon the time and nature of their own death. A situation which tolerates UK citizens achieving that in Switzerland, or elsewhere, but refuses that choice in the UK is unsustainable and unjust."

To opponents of the bill, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, disabled people, doctors, nurses, carers and many others, this will make for chilling reading.

Opinion polls show unhealthy levels of support among the public for a change in the law on assisted dying. Although much of this is motivated by a desire to alleviate suffering, opponents of Lord Falconer's Bill must continue to work hard, as groups such as Living and Dying Well, Christian Medical Fellowship and many others are doing, in order to fully inform the public on what is an extremely complex issue that covers law, clinical practice, mental health, ethics and social attitudes.

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