A BILL that would allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to
terminally ill people to enable them to end their lives has passed
its second reading in the House of Lords.
The Assisted Dying Bill, a Private Member's Bill by Lord
Falconer, was debated by peers for several hours before being sent
to committee without a vote on Friday last week.
Proposing what he called a "limited" change to the law, Lord
Falconer said that his Bill would not lead to more deaths, but to
"There is a common goal, whichever side of the debate you are
on, for a law that shows compassion to the well-motivated who help
someone to end their life when they already have a terminal
illness, but in a way that provides proper safeguards against abuse
and pressure. The Lords, working constructively together, can craft
such a law."
Lord Carey of Clifton, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, also
spoke in favour of assisted dying. He had prompted a strong
response from the present Archbishop of Canterbury when he
announced in the press that he had changed his mind on the subject
last week (News, 18
"When suffering is so great that some patients, already knowing
that they are at the end of life, make repeated pleas to die, it
seems a denial of that loving compassion which is the hallmark of
Christianity to refuse to allow them to fulfil their own clearly
stated request," he argued in the debate.
"If we truly love our neighbours as ourselves, how can we deny
them the death that we would wish for ourselves in such a
Lord Blair of Broughton, a former commissioner of the
Metropolitan Police, said that a new law was urgently needed to
stop the suicides of terminally ill people being treated as
possible crimes, and relatives as suspects.
"It is also an extremely unpleasant task for the police and an
entirely unnecessary one. It is not just the dying but their
relatives and friends who need to be released with compassion and
safeguards from the rack of these kinds of awful deaths."
Many other peers, however, argued against assisted dying, saying
that it would lead to the victimisation of the elderly and ill, as
well as begin a slippery slide towards the legalisation of full
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, a disability-rights campaigner
who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, said: "This Bill offers
no comfort to me. It frightens me because in periods of greatest
difficulty, I know I might be tempted to use it. It only adds to
the burdens and challenges life holds for me.
"You can be sure there will be doctors and lawyers willing to
support my right to die. Sadly, many would put their energies into
that rather than improving my situation."
Lord Tebbit said that the Bill would be a "breeding ground for
vultures" by creating a financial incentive to end someone's
The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that he strongly
disagreed with the principle behind the Bill - that ending your own
life because of difficult circumstances was an "assertion of human
freedom. . .
"Dying well is the positive achievement of a task that belongs
with our humanity," he said. "It is unlike all other tasks given to
us in life, but it expresses the value that we set on life as no
other approach to death can do.
"The Assisted Dying Bill could deprive some terminally ill
individuals and their families of this very important time of
shared love and wonder. I urge noble Lords to resist it."
The Bill will now be examined more closely by a committee of
peers. Without Government support, however, it is extremely
unlikely to make its way through the House of Commons and become
The Prime Minister has expressed his doubts about assisted
dying, saying in the Commons during Prime Minister's Questions on
Wednesday last week that he was not convinced by the Bill.