AT PRESENT, all forms of assisted dying in the UK are illegal. While it is possible to withdraw treatment leading to death, those found to have actively assisted someone to take their own life can be liable for a sentence of up to 14 years under the Suicide Act 1961.

While prosecutions of this kind are very rare, they do take place. One of the few to have been prosecuted is Dr Nigel Cox, a doctor at Winchester hospital who administered a fatal injection after being asked by a patient with chronic arthritis. He was given a suspended sentence of one year, and then allowed to continue practicing.

However, in other countries and areas of the world, the situation is very much different. Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and states such as Victoria in Australia and Oregon in the USA do allow it to take place. Meanwhile, New Zealand is set to legalise the practice by the end of the year. 

There have been calls to legalise assisted dying in the UK for almost a century, with the introduction of the first legislation in the 1930s. These proposed laws, however, did not pass.

Over the following decades, more bills have been introduced by members of parliament and lords, but they have failed to pass, either through running out of parliamentary time or being voted down. In 1997, a doctor-assisted dying bill was rejected by 234 votes to 89, while in 2015, a similar bill was rejected by 330 votes to 118. 

The most recent iteration of an assisted dying bill was introduced by Baroness Meacher in May this year. Under the proposed law, a person who is terminally ill, and expected to live less than six months, would be able to ask their attending doctor, and an independent doctor, to certify that they are terminally ill, have the capacity to make this decision, and have made a voluntary, informed decision without coercion. 

Should that be agreed, then they can apply to the High Court for permission to end their life, provided that they are over 18, have lived in England and Wales for over a year, and have capacity to make this decision.

The attending doctor would then be able, after a period of at least two weeks in most cases, to prescribe medicine that would prove fatal to the patient. They, or a nominated health professional, would then need to stay with them until they either take the prescription, or choose not to.

While it is unknown at this time whether the bill will pass, public support is generally in favour of the legalisation of assisted dying. 

A survey carried out by YouGov last year, on 1642 adults in the UK, found that 61 per cent were in favour of legalising assisted dying, versus 14 per cent who said it should be illegal.

Amongst healthcare professionals, where 1027 were surveyed in the same poll, feelings were stronger, with 67 per cent in favour of legalising assisted dying, and 14 per cent against. However, bodies such as the British Medical Association have stated their opposition to doctor-assisted dying, believing that palliative care is sufficient.

To debate this issue, we have invited two of our areas MPs, who have opposing views on assisted dying, to debate it. Each has been given the exact same word count to set out their opinion.

You can see Kit Malthouse's argument in favour of its legalisation by clicking here

You can see Danny Kruger's argument against its legalisation by clicking here

You can also have your say by leaving your thoughts in the comments below, and voting in our poll.