Friday, 18 July 2014

Fears for safety of vulnerable people as assisted suicide is debated in House of Lords

Baroness Jane Campbell
Fears for the safety of vulnerable people - terminally-ill, disabled or elderly - figured strongly in the House of Lords debate on Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill today.

Regrettably, the bill was allowed to proceed for further consideration by the House of Lords, though its ultimate outcome remains uncertain.

The bill's opponents gave excellent speeches and focused on the bill's many dangers and problems. Regrettably, those opponents did not call for a vote, which could have stopped the bill.

Those who favoured the bill pointed to the ultimatum in the Supreme Court's recent Nicklinson judgment. The Supreme Court threatened that if Parliament did not debate assisted suicide, the courts might declare the current law incompatible with human rights, thereby forcing the government to introduce legislation.

Many speeches in today's debate rehearsed issues which had been raised in Lord Joffe's assisted suicide bills (2004-2006) and Lord Falconer's previous attempts to change the law.

Lord Tebbit argued forcefully that weakening the protection of terminally-ill people would leave them at the mercy of "vultures" – money-grasping relatives.
Baroness Kennedy said that, while the bill offer 'choice' to those in terminal illness, the modern popular notion of 'choice' was both a lure and a snare.

The Anglican Bishop of Bristol and others pointed to the change of mind of Dr Theo Boer of the Netherlands, previously a supporter of euthanasia, who now wishes it were possible to "put the genie back in the bottle."

Viscount Colville noted how the bill failed to provide any adequate check that people supposedly choosing freely to die were of sound mind.

The slippery slope argument – that the bill will lead to much more extensive killing – was widely canvassed by both sides. Some rejected this argument outright, but others, such as disabled peer Baroness Campbell asserted it forcefully. Baroness Cumberledge said the bill was not so much a slippery slope as an ice-cliff.

Many peers on both sides of the debate mentioned the many letters they had received from members of the public and how these had influenced their thinking. A number of peers quoted personal stories from letters, and several indicated that correspondence had helped to shape their thinking on the bill.

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