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Families across the country who have felt the devastating effects of the blanket ban on assisted dying have come together today (Tuesday 21 May 2019) to launch a new campaign calling for a change in the law.
‘Acts of Love’ is led by Ann Whaley, who was interviewed under caution earlier this year after police were anonymously notified of her plan to accompany her terminally ill husband Geoffrey to Dignitas. Ann is due to meet with the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, next month, whose support for a change in the law was recently revealed (Sunday Express, 19 May 2019). Ann will be urging Mr Gauke to look at the dreadful consequences that the current law on assisted dying is causing for families like hers.
The campaign, comprised of over 30 relatives and friends from across the country, launches as Lord Sumption’s first Reith lecture is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 today. At its recording, Ann asked the former Supreme Court judge for his views on the current law, to which he replied “I think that the law should continue to criminalise assisted suicide, and I think that the law should be broken from time to time… That is an untidy compromise few lawyers would adopt but I don’t believe there’s a moral obligation to obey the law. Ultimately it’s for each person to decide.”
On Thursday, Baroness Molly Meacher, Chair of Dignity in Dying, will be pressing the Minister to accept that when a former Supreme Court Judge suggests that families of dying relatives should break the law, that law is itself broken and needs reform. She will ask what plans the Government has to prepare for legislative change on assisted dying.
Ann has written an open letter to all MPs urging them to listen to the Reith lecture broadcast and to support Acts of Love. Ann said:
“Lord Sumption’s comments show complete unawareness of the reality faced by families like mine. We were fortunate enough to have the money to help Geoffrey get his final wish to die on his own terms, but many in this country are not so lucky. We also had to say goodbye before we were ready as Geoffrey feared he was losing the strength to travel. When the police got involved, our world fell apart. I was made to feel like a criminal for acting out of love and this has spurred me on to launch this campaign with Dignity in Dying.
“I am delighted that David Gauke has agreed to meet me to discuss these issues and I am encouraged by his support for my family’s plight. Compassion is not a crime and the current law cannot be allowed to continue as it is – that is my message to him and to all MPs.”
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said:
“The families behind Acts of Love have all felt the effects of the UK’s cruel and outdated law on assisted dying. Some, like Ann, have been criminalised for acting out of love for a terminally ill relative after the blanket ban on assisted dying forced them to take the law into their own hands. Others did not have the funds or means to act, and instead watched helplessly as a loved one suffered a traumatic death at home or took drastic steps to end their own life. Families should not be put in this agonising position.
“Over 100 million people around the world are covered by laws that take this dilemma out of the hands of loved ones and instead provide dying citizens with choice and compassion alongside robust protection for the rest of society. It is high time the UK followed suit. We are calling on the Justice Secretary to look into the suffering caused by the blanket ban on assisted dying in this country. Until change comes, acts of love will continue to be criminalised and compassion will be punished. If we really care about our dying citizens and their families, there is only one thing to do: fix this broken law.”
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