Exclusive: Government will refuse to do any work on legalising euthanasia

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The Houses of Parliament -  Nick Edwards
The Houses of Parliament - Nick Edwards

Ministers will refuse to consult or issue a call for evidence on weakening assisted suicide laws in a boost for MPs who do not want change to law, The Telegraph can disclose.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, who is in charge of the policy, has made clear that the Government will not do any work on legalising euthanasia.

The news comes after The Telegraph revealed Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, wrote to the chief statistician of the ONS to ask for figures on how many people with terminal illnesses are killing themselves every year, in a move which was seen as opening the door to legalising assisted suicide.

However a senior source at the Ministry of Justice said: “The Government has no position on this. We have no plans to consult or call for evidence or anything on this issue.”

Instead ministers want to allow MPs to have a free vote first on the issue, and then use that to guide the Government on whether legislation needs to be drawn up.

Ministers would also be pleased to see either the Health select committee or Justice select committee gather evidence on the issue.

The same source said: “It is a matter for Parliament. This is genuinely an issue for MPs and their consciences and members of the Lords to vote upon accordingly.”

Mr Buckland is understood to believe that the guidance issued by the Crown Prosecution Service in 2010 “strikes the right balance”.

The source added: “You don’t see loving couples ending with the surviving member of the couple going to court. That does not happen.

“We don’t choose to be born, we don’t choose the time of death, and once you start ascribing value to somebody’s life you are taking things into a new dimension.”

Previous attempts by MPs and peers, including Lord Falconer of Thoroton in 2014, who was Lord Chancellor in Tony Blair's Labour government, failed to win the support of Parliament.

In 2014 then-Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "not convinced that further steps need to be taken" and was concerned that "people might be being pushed into things that they don't actually want for themselves".

Last month members of a newly formed All Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well wrote to Mr Buckland urging him not to weaken the law on whether people can legally be helped to die.

Tory MP Danny Kruger, the group’s chairman, which held its first meeting for 50 MPs last week, said: “It is right that the Government is being cautious about any moves in this direction - there are many causes for concern about any weakening in the law.

“Instead of legalising assisted suicide we should be investing in a proper system of palliative care.”

However Andrew Mitchell, the former Conservative Cabinet minister who chairs the pro-assisted suicide All Party Parliamentary Group for Choice at the End of Life, added: “The ONS figures will show that large numbers of people who are killing themselves are terminally sick.

“They are trying to end their lives, they cannot afford to go to Switzerland, there is no change in the law so far and therefore they determine they have no option but to end their lives themselves - sometimes in horrific circumstances.

“The Government is of course neutral - it is for us as members of the House of Commons to decide and vote on what is an issue of conscience."