SAFEGUARDS in a backbench Bill that seeks to legalise assisted
dying have been tightened after members of the House of Lords said
that the Family Division of the High Court would have to give
consent before a patient could call upon the provisions of the
Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill, if passed into law, would
allow people with terminal illness and less than six months to
live, to be "provided with assistance to end their own life" (News, 25
July). The Bill entered the committee stage in the House of
Lords last Friday.
"On the assumption that this Bill is passed, it seems to me
critical and essential that the court should have an input," the
former President of the Family Division, Baroness Butler-Sloss,
said. "The judge would have the power to require, for instance, a
psychiatrist or other medical opinion, if the judge was not
satisfied that the patient - we are talking about the rights of the
patient - had the full capacity necessary to make this absolutely
She said that her experience demonstrated that requiring the
consent of the High Court would not unduly delay an assisted death
from taking place: "In my day, I was able to try cases on the day
that the problem came before the High Court, and it was able to go
to the Court of Appeal on the same day if it was sufficiently
"I would expect the President of the Family Division to treat
all these cases with the utmost seriousness, and would see it as
crucial that they be heard as quickly as possible."
During the debate, many people spoke of the pressure that
terminally ill patients might face from family members and others
to end their lives.
The former Paralympian Baroness Grey-Thompson warned of the
dangers of "gentle suggestion" and "the constant drip-drip of
'You're not worth it'".
She said that, in a recent conversation, somebody "looked at me
and sort of waved at the wheelchair and said, 'Well, you must have
considered killing yourself hundreds of times.'
"No, I have not, actually, and I think that it was a bit of a
surprise to him. It is that sort of tone, where 'You're brave.
You're marvellous.' People do not realise that they are being
demeaning. I think that they genuinely think that they are being
empathetic, sympathetic, and kind, but, actually, you are
constantly being knocked down and told that you have no value and
The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, emphasised the
need to ensure that the patient wanted to end his or her life not
only when they began the process of seeking consent, but also
before any life-ending drugs were administered.
He wanted "at least to give the opportunity to the person, as
they come to the moment when they will actually have the drugs
administered, to return to that decision to make sure it is robust.
. . Each decision ought to be subject to some level of scrutiny.
Clearly, the first one needs to be subject to a very high degree of
scrutiny, but we need to give some attention as to whether the
second decision also needs a degree of scrutiny."
It would be "necessary to confirm that the decision to accept
assistance is free from pressure, coercion, or duress from others,
or from a sense of duty or obligation to others, and that there
exists a level of capacity commensurate with the decision", he
Clause One of the Bill completed its Committee Stage on Friday.
The remaining 12 clauses must wait until additional time is given
to the Bill. As a backbench Bill, it is not given priority when
time is allocated.