Assisted Dying Bill (Part 1)

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Peers have backed the Assisted Dying Bill at second reading, after debating its measures in a packed chamber for almost ten hours.

Friday 17 July 2014's debate was the first opportunity for peers to speak on the general principles of the bill.

Over 130 peers requested to speak in the debate, thought to be a record number.

The Bill is a Private Members' Bill, introduced by the Labour peer and former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thornton.

The legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance to end their own life and would apply to those with less than six months to live.

Lord Falconer opened the debate by setting out his view of the current situation, which he said sees the "rich going to Switzerland" and "the majority reliant on amateur assistance".

"They hoard pills or put a plastic bag over their head when they are alone," Lord Falconer told peers.

The bill is based on a similar law in Oregon, in the United States, but with "more safeguards" he continued.

Two doctors would have to independently confirm the patient was terminally ill and had reached their own, informed decision to die.

Currently, the 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales. Anyone doing so could face up to 14 years in prison.

Concluding his speech, Lord Falconer told peers "Our work on this bill will affect so many lives; in the way they die and in being with someone they love as he or she experiences a final illness.

"I believe that the time has come for change,"

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu restated the Church of England's opposition on assisted dying.

He called it "odd" that "ones early death would be welcomed to one's nearest family and spare them trouble."

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Avebury spoke of his Buddhist faith and despite the fact that the bill's measures were in opposition to the fundamental principles of the religion, he supported it.

He told peers about the "Buddhist principle of compassion which I think applies in the extreme circumstances of distressing terminal illness."

Speaking in support, former Metropolitan Police commissioner, Lord Blair of Boughton, now a crossbench peer said friends and family of the dying were unnecessarily subject to a police investigation in assisted suicide cases.

Conservative peer Lord Tebbit has warned that the bill creates the financial incentive for "vultures" to swarm over the sick and dying.

Speaking in the debate, he reflected on his experiences caring for his wife Margaret, who was left paralysed following the IRA bombing of the Conservative Party conference in 1984.

"Those who care for such people are all too familiar with the moments of black despair which prompt those words: 'I would be better dead so that you could get on with your life'."

Also opposed to the bill was crossbench peer, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, who has spinal muscular atrophy. She told peers that "this bill is about me."

"Imagine this bill is already law and I ask for assistance to die. Do your Lordships think I would be refused? No."

In an emotional speech, she called the bill a "false choice" and said that the bill was motivated by fear and pity.

"Helping people to live with dignity and purpose should surely be our priority.

"The bill is not the answer."

Part two of the debate can be found here.

Part three of the debate can be found here.

Part four of the debate can be found here.

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