Assisted dying law would lessen suffering says Falconer

 

House of Lords

Legalising assisting dying would mean "less suffering not more deaths", a leading campaigner has said.

Lord Falconer, whose private member's bill would legalise the practice for some terminally ill patients, said a "limited" change was needed to the law to give people choice on their deaths.

But Lord Tebbit said it would create "too much of a financial incentive for the taking of life".

The bill passed its second reading in the Lords on Friday without a vote.

The proposed legislation would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to terminally ill patients judged to have less than six months to live.

Making the case for his bill, Lord Falconer insisted that the "final decision must always be made by the patient", with safeguards to prevent "abuse"

About 130 peers requested to speak in a debate that lasted for around 10 hours.

'Lonely death'

The bill will now be examined line-by-line by peers in the Lords as it passes to committee stage.

However, without government backing, MPs are unlikely to get a chance to debate it in the Commons, meaning it will not become law.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he is not "convinced" by the arguments for legalising assisted dying but the bill has won the backing of Lib Dem Care Minister Norman Lamb.

Lord Falconer speaking in the Lords Lord Falconer made the case for a change in the law on Friday

The legislation would allow a terminally ill, mentally competent adult, making the choice of their own free will and after meeting strict legal safeguards, to request life-ending medication from a doctor.

Two independent doctors would be required to agree that the patient had made an informed decision to die.

Opening the debate in a packed house, Lord Falconer - a former Labour Lord Chancellor - told peers the current legal situation permitted the wealthy to travel abroad to take their own life while others were left "in despair" to suffer a "lonely, cruel death".

"The current situation leaves the rich able to go to Switzerland, the majority reliant on amateur assistants, the compassionate treated like criminals and no safeguards in terms of undue pressure now," he said.

He said many people were so worried about "implicating their loves ones in a criminal enterprise" by asking them for help to die that they took their lives "by hoarding pills or putting a plastic bag over their heads".

Baroness Wheatcroft said her mother was in agony and "would have used a loaded gun"

Legalising assisted dying, he argued would allow a "small number" of people who didn't want to "go through the last months, weeks, days and hours" of life to die with dignity.

Lord Falconer's bill was backed by Lord Avebury, the former Liberal MP, who was diagnosed with terminal blood cancer in 2011.

He urged peers to consider helping thousands of people whom he said faced "weeks of torture before they die a means of escaping from that unnecessary fate".

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said he had changed his mind about the issue and now believed that belief in assisted dying was "quite compatible" with being a Christian.

"When suffering is so great, when some patients already know that they are at the end of life, make repeated pleas to die, it seems a denial of the loving compassion that is the hallmark of Christianity to refuse to allow them to fulfil their clearly stated request," he said.

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Assisted dying debate
Nurse and patient holding hands
What is the current law on assisted dying around the UK?

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.

The law is almost identical in Northern Ireland. There is no specific law on assisted suicide in Scotland, creating some uncertainty, although in theory someone could be prosecuted under homicide legislation.

Have there been any previous attempts to change the law?

There have already been several attempts to legalise assisted dying, but these have been rejected.

The Commission on Assisted Dying, established and funded by campaigners who have been calling for a change in the law, concluded in 2012 that there was a "strong case" for allowing assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill in England and Wales.

But the medical profession and disability rights groups, among others, argue that the law should not be changed because it is there to protect the vulnerable in society.

What is the situation abroad?

In other countries, such as Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, legislation has been introduced to allow assisted dying. France is considering a possible introduction of similar legislation, although there is opposition from its medical ethics council.

Campaign group Dignity in Dying predicts that a lot more countries will follow suit.

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But the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said the proposed legislation was "not about relieving pain and suffering" but was based on the misguided belief that "ending your life in circumstances of distress is an assertion of human freedom".

'Confronting mortality'
Opponent of assisted dying outside Parliament Opponents of assisted dying protest against a change in the law outside Parliament
Supporters of assisted dying Actress Susan Hampshire leads a demonstration in favour of a change in the law

He told peers that his mother had been given weeks to live after being diagnosed with throat cancer but, with the help of others, had lived for a further 18 months.

"Dying well is a positive achievement of a task which belongs to our humanity," he said.

Calling for a Royal Commission to be set up to examine the issue, he added: "This is far too a complex and sensitive issue to rush through Parliament and to decide on the basis of competing personal stories."

Former High Court Judge Baroness Butler-Sloss said the proposed safeguards were "utterly inadequate" while former Tory cabinet minister Lord Tebbit said it could put pressure on people who are unable to care for themselves to "do the decent thing in order to cease to be a burden on others".

Lord Tebbit, whose wife was paralysed in the 1984 Brighton bombing, also suggested legalising assisted dying could lead to personal and financial disputes between loved ones and relatives.

"The bill would be a breeding ground for vultures, both corporate and individual. It creates too much financial incentive for the taking of life."

The BBC's parliamentary correspondent Sean Curran said the future of the legislation - and whether it ever makes it to the House of Commons - will be decided after the summer recess.

 

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Assisted dying controversy

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Comments

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 356.

    I can see this being fraught with dangers if passed. However, I've always felt there was a contradiction with peoples attitudes towards sick animals when, with them, its the humane thing to do but if someone is ill, is unconscious, constant agony, no quality of life etc then we try to keep them going indefinitely!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 355.

    339. Clear Incite
    But its not your right to inflict death by obligation on others.

    ---

    True, but why should you deny somebody their choice just because you can't think of any other way to safeguard it?

    It's still none of your business if someone wants to kill themselves and you have no justification to interfere in that.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 354.

    If your dog becomes ill and cannot be treated, you put the dog down. Why do we give dogs this privilege and not Human Beings. This is inhumane to not allow a Human to make a choice for themselves, especially one that concerns their own life.

    Choice is the ultimate freedom. Denying this is immoral

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 353.

    why should religious biggotry be allowed to dictate if someone has to live in intolerable suffering.

    no religion should be allowed to impose it's ignorance on anyone at all. disallowing this law on religious grounds would be exactly that. compassion must be allowed for those who are suffering. torturing them is not compassion

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 352.

    I can end my own life, or I can allow somebody else to do it for me. The law and politicians cannot tell me no, because how would they know? How could they stop me / us? The truth is assisted suicide happens, legal or not. People will live and die, however they want to or however they can. This country cannot feed the poor, or feed the hungry, yet they expect to tell the sick when and how to die?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 351.

    While Article 1 of the human rights states 'the right to life'. Article 3 states no one should encounter "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". Allowing a patient or Refusing a patient the right to stop any inhuman or degrading treatment is a breach of their article 3 rights - there is no exception to this right.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 350.

    Given that Lord Tebbit also claimed that the same-sex marriage Act would enable him to marry his son, I think I can safely ignore his views.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 349.

    Still a lot of people are conflating 'assisted suicide' with 'euthanasia' - the two are NOT the same.

    Assisted Suicide = somebody who is fully mentally aware being provided assistance to end their own life to escape a terminal illness/severe pain, etc.

    Euthanasia = the 'mercy' killing of the severely mentally/physically handicapped, or ill, who are incapable of making a decision themselves.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 348.

    Living wills should be looked at, same as people should put in place a lasting power of attorney - in respect of their health as well as their finances. Make it very clear what you do and do not want to happen whilst you are of sound mind, and hopefully you won't then be forced to endure years of pain - unless of course you want to :)

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 347.

    Cameron : "Those responsible must be held to account"

    ... yes, unless they are friends of American in which case we will do nothing as ...

    ... i.e. if we can use this tragedy to manipulate our goals to control Ukraine then lets do that ... if not forget it

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 346.

    This should be all about personal choice. The option should be there for those who want to take it. For those you don't want the option, they do not have to take it, but shouldn't dictate to those who may do so. All appropriate safety processes will be in place.

    It is a bit like saying I don't like hot curries, so I will ban them, so nobody else can choose them either.

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 345.

    Dear Religious People,

    You have joined a club in which assisted dying is viewed as a Mortal Sin.

    That's fine, no one would be forcing you to do it.

    In a similar way, stop forcing your club rules on everyone else and allow non-members to display some compassion at life's end and permit death with dignity.

    It's quite simple really.

    Yours faithfully,
    A Human Being

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 344.

    We are talking about assisted death and it should be an individual's choice. If someone is terminally ill and in great pain they may wish to end their life with dignity. Equally someone may decide whilst healthy that if they were suffering from dementia they would also wish a dignified death rather than an appalling "life". Others may prefer to live on. All valid viewpoints to be respected

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 343.

    310.martoon196 - "There's 1 group in this country...causing untold pain and suffering...if you are one...should be forced to live with or suffer the same."

    Only slighly more subtle than shouting 'Hope you get a tumour!'.

    People opposing this dont do so because they 'enjoy' inflicting suffering, their argument (though misguided) is more to do with concern for the sanctity of life.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 342.

    Would this be applied to the young terminally ill as well as the old terminally ill?

    Would the question be equally discussed?

  • rate this
    +31

    Comment number 341.

    25 years ago, I watched my beloved grandma suffer a long and horrible death with dementia. My father said to me that if he ever got like that to please shoot him. Now he is exactly like that. Due to genetics it is quite likely that I will go that direction too. I should have the right to chose now when I am of sound mind that I dont want to live like that.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 340.

    A v difficult subject. We should allow the terminally sick with nil quality of life and in much pain to chose whether to die. But legislation to allow this could be misused with people encouraging their elderly and infirmed relatives in care homes (good ones near where I live cost £1,000+ per week) & seen to becoming an expensive nuisance, that they should end it.
    It's nothing to do with religion.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 339.

    And who would have the least choice, the Poor the ones Falconer, wants to give choice too, the Law of Unexpected consequences is likely to come into play with this legislation.

    6. Looternite
    It is my life and my rights, so keep your beliefs out of my right to die.
    ---
    But its not your right to inflict death by obligation on others.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 338.

    With the right safe guards I feel "assisted dying", allowing those with nothing to look forward to but a slow, agonising death the choice of a pain free peaceful end is the right thing. I would want that choice for myself.

    I hear the argument about it being against Christian (or substitute other religions) beliefs - fine. They are your beliefs not mine. Do NOT impose them on me...

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 337.

    My life; my choice when to end it (if 'nature' doesn't get me first!). Nobody else's business. Don't care what anyone else thinks. My life; my choice.

    Instead of trying to interfere in my life:death choices, which have nothing to do with you, why not devote your sad life to something really worthwhile, like watching some paint dry

 

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