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Peers debate Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill

25 July 2014


Against the Bill: the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, speaks at a rally outside the Houses of Parliament, on Friday

Against the Bill: the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Mike Hill, speaks at a rally outside the Houses of Parliament, on Friday

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 less suffering.

"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 July).

"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 condition?"

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 euthanasia.

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 life.

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 law.

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.

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