The UK government looks to be taking steps towards legalising assisted suicide as Health Secretary Matt Hancock has requested data on those with terminal conditions who have taken their own lives.
Assisted suicide has long been a controversial topic among government leaders, though advocates for the practice continue to argue that people suffering with incurable illnesses should have control over when and how they die.
Last week, Hancock requested figures on assisted suicide from the UK’s top statistician, Sir Ian Diamond, and told the All Party Parliamentary Group for Choice that he hopes the data will offer information to open up a discussion on legalising the practice.
Assisted suicide is currently illegal in the UK, with anyone found to have helped or encouraged someone to take their own life facing up to 14 years in prison in England and Wales.
Speaking to MPs and peers, as reported by The Telegraph, Hancock said he had asked the statistician ‘to consider what should be published in terms of statistics that can inform the debate in this country,’ and that he wants the figures to ‘shed more light on the data of those at a time of their choosing.’
The Health Secretary is said to have admitted that he was initially against assisted suicide, but his thoughts on the matter were impacted after speaking to Sir Paul Cosford, who served as Public Health England’s medical director and died last month after a four-year battle with cancer.
Regarding the discussion he hopes to have on the matter, he said: ‘I think it is important that public debate is informed by the best statistics.’
Last month, retired neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, one of the UK’s leading brain surgeons, was backed by more than 50 MPs and peers from different parties as he said an inquiry into assisted dying is ‘absolutely essential’.
Laws making the assisted dying legal for terminally ill people have been passed in a number of countries, including Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, Holland and New Zealand.
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