People are allowed to leave their homes to travel abroad for assisted dying purposes during the second lockdown in England, the Health Secretary has said.
Conservative Andrew Mitchell, a former cabinet minister, asked an urgent question in the Commons on the subject and said he was worried the lockdown “could deter” people from making such a journey.
Responding, Mr Hancock told MPs: “The new coronavirus regulations which come into force today place restrictions on leaving the home without a reasonable excuse.
“Travelling abroad for the purpose of assisted dying is a reasonable excuse and so anyone doing so would not be breaking the law.”
Mr Hancock added: “The question of how we best support people in their choices at the end of their life is a complex moral issue that, when considered, weighs heavily upon us all.”
He said the Covid-19 regulations do not change the “existing legal position on assisted dying” and said he wanted to set out the “precise position” regarding the current law.
He told MPs: “Under current law, based on the Suicide Act 1961, it is an offence to encourage or assist the death of another person.
“However, it is legal to travel abroad for the purpose of assisted dying where it is allowed in that jurisdiction.”
The pandemic has made how we care for people at the end of their lives “a central issue of public debate”, Mr Hancock said.
He added: “We of course do acknowledge the changing views of many, including many in the medical profession, and of course we observe the changes and the international debate that is taking place.
“I think it is absolutely reasonable for this House to have a conversation and a discussion on what is an important topic.
“And I think it is right that we locate this question within a broader discussion of how we care for people at the end of their lives which has become sadly – due to the coronavirus pandemic – a central issue of public debate in this country.”
He continued: “As this is a matter of conscience, the Government does not take a position. It is instead a matter for each and every MP to speak on and vote according to their sincerely held beliefs and it is for the will of this House to decide whether the law should change.”