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MAY 2014

Assisted suicide moves closer

The legalisation of assisted suicide has moved a significant step closer after the Government made clear that it would not stand in the way of a change in the law. Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs and peers – including Coalition ministers – will be given a free vote on a Bill that would enable doctors to help terminally ill patients to die, according to The Telegraph. The proposed legislation will come before Parliament in the next few months. 11

Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat and the minister responsible for care for elderly and disabled people, was among the first to say he would vote in favour. Several other ministers and senior MPs and peers have previously signalled support for the move. Mr Lamb said he was now convinced that “the State should not stand in the way” of people determined to end their life, as long as strict safeguards were in place.

A Bill drawn up by Lord Falconer, a former Labour lord chancellor, to legalise ‘assisted dying’ – allowing doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to terminally-ill patients – is before the House of Lords. Peers are expected to vote on the plans in the next four months. If the Bill is supported there, it will then pass to the Commons where some MPs say they have detected growing support for the move.

Although opinion in the Commons is divided, a free vote for MPs gives the legislation a significant chance of success. However, doctors, disability campaigners and Churches have warned that a relaxation in the law could leave vulnerable people at risk, and damage the doctor-patient relationship.

In May 2013, Lord Falconer introduced a bill into the House of Lords to permit assisted suicide for the terminally ill. The House of Lords has rejected assisted suicide on a number of occasions, notably in 2006 and 2009, and Lord Falconer's current bill is not considered to be much different from Lord Joffe's, which was defeated 148-100 in 2006. The current bill is based on the law currently in place in Oregon, 12  and has been informed by Lord Falconer's much-criticised  Commission on Assisted Dying. 13

Comedian, Ricky Gervais, has revealed he is ‘all for’ euthanasia – and hopes it will be as easy as popping into Boots for a tablet when his time comes. “I’m pro-choice in everything,” he says.  “I believe you’re the master of your own body and you should be able to die with dignity and say when you’ve had enough. There should be no argument with that. But by the time I want to go it’ll be easy. I reckon I’ll be able to pop into Boots and say, ‘Give me the pill, I’m going.’ ” 14

A spokesman for the campaign group Care Not Killing said: “Various attempts to change the law on assisted suicide and euthanasia have been debated and rejected by Parliament in recent years.

“Instead of repeating this process, we should be talking about how to ensure everyone has access to the care, drugs and treatment they need.”

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said: “Many disabled people will be left feeling very concerned by suggestions that a change in the law on assisted suicide could be one step closer. The ban on assisted suicide sends a really powerful message countering the view that if you’re disabled it’s not worth being alive, and that you’re a burden. It provides crucial protection to any person who feels under pressure to end their life.”

“There are loud, well-organised and influential calls to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill adults. But we hope politicians will decide against changing a law …  on the basis of powerful, but exceptional cases.

"This issue tells us a lot about attitudes to disability. Why is it when someone who is not disabled wants to commit suicide we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide we focus on how we can make that possible?”

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both voiced opposition to changing the law. Mr Clegg, whose mother is Dutch, said even limited assisted suicide in Holland had created a culture in which doctors push the boundaries of the law. Mr Cameron has said, ““My worry has always been about whether people will be unfairly pressurised.” 15

See also: Why assisted suicide should not be legalised in Britain

11 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10685362/Assisted-suicide-moves-closer-as-Government-allows-free-vote.html

12 http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/news/record-oregon-figures-a-warning/

13 http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/articles/falconers-conclusions/

14 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/event/article-2596224/Ricky-Gervais-Why-I-support-euthanasia-Ive-planned-funeral.html?printingPage=true

15 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/10723089/David-Cameron-elderly-people-could-be-unfairly-pressurised-into-ending-lives-if-assisted-suicide-legalised.html

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