People travelling abroad for the purpose of assisted dying will not be breaking coronavirus travel rules, the health secretary has said.
New lockdown rules in England place restrictions on leaving the home without a reasonable excuse.
But Matt Hancock told MPs that seeking an assisted death abroad counted as a reasonable excuse.
He also stressed that it remains a criminal offence to encourage or assist the death of another person.
He was replying to Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, who said new coronavirus regulations could “deter” people from travelling to Switzerland for an assisted death.
Mr Mitchell referred to an article in the Times by a mental health professional who said the pandemic meant she would travel to Switzerland for an assisted death “before I am truly ready”.
“With the second wave of the virus well on its way, I fear that if I leave it any later my plans could be jeopardised: what if I am forced to quarantine?,” the anonymous woman told The Times.
“Many of the larger airlines have postponed their flights to Switzerland and others are getting cancelled; what if flights are grounded completely?”
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of campaign group Dignity in Dying, said: “The cruelty and challenges faced by terminally ill people because of the UK’s outdated laws on assisted dying have been worsened even further by this pandemic. Already limited choices are even more fraught with anxiety.”
Intentionally helping another person to kill themselves is known as assisted suicide – this can include buying someone a ticket to Switzerland (where assisted suicide is legal) to end their life.
Dignity in Dying are campaigning for a law that would allow assisted dying, for those who are terminally ill.
The Care Not Killing alliance, which is against assisted dying, argues that changing the law could result in elderly or vulnerable people feeling under greater pressure to end their lives.
Last month, New Zealand voted in a referendum to allow terminally ill people with less than six months to live the opportunity to choose assisted dying if approved by two doctors.
‘A central issue’
Addressing MPs, Mr Hancock said “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 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 that 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.”
“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,” said the health secretary.