People can break lockdown in order to travel abroad for assisted dying, Matt Hancock has confirmed.
The Health and Social Care Secretary said flying to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland will be considered a “reasonable excuse” under the travel ban which came into effect on Thursday.
It follows an outcry over the case of a former NHS worker with terminal breast cancer who was forced to bring forward her assisted suicide plans at the Zurich facility due to fears the new lockdown rules would prevent her from travelling.
The 45-year-old said she felt driven to “go now, before I am truly ready”.
The Covid regulations for England state that people may not travel abroad, unless for work, education “or other legally permitted reasons”.
Responding to an urgent question in Parliament on Thursday, Mr Hancock said: “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.”
He 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.”
Andrew Mitchell, the former cabinet minister who tabled the urgent question, said the new lockdown could nevertheless deter people from travelling for assisted suicide.
“This will undoubtedly cause many more Britains to suffer as they die, due to the lack of a safeguarded law here in the UK,” he said.
In 2015 an assisted dying bill – based on a bill introduced in the previous Parliament by former Labour Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer – was defeated by 330 votes to 118 in the House of Commons.
Campaigners for the measure have been buoyed by New Zealand’s decision last month to allow assisted dying for terminally ill people with less than six months to live.
Last year the Royal College of Physicians dropped their long-standing opposition to assisted dying, moving to a position of neutrality.
The British Medical Association, which represents all UK doctors, still formally opposes physician-assisted dying, arguing that “ongoing improvements to palliative care allows patients to die with dignity”.
However, a survey of members conducted in February found that 50 per cent supported a change in the law to allow the prescription of drugs that patients could self-administer to end their life.
Only 36 per cent said they would be willing personally to prescribe drugs.