ASSISTED dying is a difficult subject, but one that’s been in the spotlight in recent weeks.

It follows a high-profile campaign by TV personality Esther Rantzen, who has stage four terminal lung cancer, and who launched a petition in January to parliament in support of assisted dying.

The petition has been signed by more than 200,000 people across the country, including 291 here in the Kingswood constituency, triggering a debate in parliament.

Like abortion, assisted dying – giving people with terminal illnesses medical help to end their lives – is seen as an issue of conscience. This means MPs have what’s called a ‘free vote’, with no party lines or whips.

The last time the issue was voted on was in 2015, when MPs rejected any change to the law by 330 votes to 118.

So, what’s changed? Well, arguably public opinion: a poll of 10,000 people released in March this year showed that 75% supported some form of law change to allow assisted dying.

Personally, after hearing many stories and seeing loved ones suffer, I lean in that direction too.

In my speech, I said we need to look carefully at the places in the world where assisted dying has been legalised, to consider what we can learn.

Why is that important? Well, just like with abortion, some countries have introduced strict laws, while others have been more liberal. The Netherlands is one such place, where I was alarmed to read that a growing number of physically healthy people are being granted assisted dying due to depression.

At the other end of the scale is the US state of Oregon, where assisted dying has been legal for 27 years but is tightly restricted to the terminally ill with less than six months to live. Interestingly, the state is also reported to have excellent hospice and palliative care, which sadly all too often doesn’t exist here. 

But there are risks, too, and questions MPs will need to satisfy themselves about before any changes should be made:

*How do you protect people from being encouraged into assisted dying?

*How do we make sure assisted dying isn’t an alternative to hospice and palliative care?

*Would it change the care doctors give, even subconsciously, were this to be an option?

Keir Starmer has said that if he becomes Prime Minister, he will allow parliament to vote on the issue, so we may be having much more debate on assisted dying soon.

In the meantime, much more needs to be done to support people with end-of-life care. Currently it is underfunded and poorly managed.

Marie Curie estimates that hundreds of thousands of people are facing a traumatic and painful death, with reports of patients struggling to get appropriate pain relief and adequate care. 

Regardless of how the debate on assisted dying goes, the fact that people are now talking more openly about end-of-life care can surely only be a good thing – provided, of course, that it actually leads to better and more compassionate care for everyone who needs it.