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Assisted suicide bill returns to Lords, amid concerns from campaigners

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Disability campaigners have voiced concern about an attempt to change the law on assisted dying as the legislation faced its latest parliamentary hurdle.

But supporters of a change claimed opponents were determined to “strangle” the Assisted Dying Bill by using up the available time when it returns to the House of Lords for detailed scrutiny on 7 November.

“Many disabled people strongly oppose a change in the law”

Richard Hawkes

The controversial proposals by Labour ex-justice secretary Lord Falconer, which would offer the chance of assisted dying to terminally ill patients deemed mentally capable and within six months of likely death, will be considered line-by-line in the legislation’s committee stage.

Disability charity Scope’s chief executive Richard Hawkes said: “Many disabled people are really worried about a change in the law on assisted suicide.

“They are concerned that it will lead to disabled people, and other vulnerable people, feeling under pressure to end their lives.

Lord Falconer

Lord Falconer

“Why is it that when people who are not disabled want 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?

“The campaign to legalise assisted suicide reinforces deep-seated beliefs that the lives of disabled people are not worth as much as other people’s. It’s a view that is all too common,” he said.

“The current law against assisted suicide works. It sends a powerful message countering the view that if you’re disabled it’s not worth being alive, and that you’re a burden,” he added.

“Many disabled people strongly oppose a change in the law.”

A poll carried out for Scope earlier this year found that 64% of disabled people who expressed an opinion had concerns about legalising assisted suicide, while 36% would not be concerned.

The Opinium study found 55% were concerned that disabled people might chose to end their lives in order not to be a burden on family, friends or caregivers, while 33% were not concerned and 12% said they did not know.

Scope

Richard Hawkes

Some 55% said the current ban on assisted suicide “protects vulnerable people from pressure to end their lives”, with 19% disagreeing, 22% neither agreeing nor disagreeing and 4% unsure.

The poll of 1,005 disabled adults, carried out between 7 July and 11, also found that 59% of those surveyed agreed that “disabled people’s lives are generally not valued as much as other people’s”.

The bill was given an unopposed second reading after a marathon debate on the legislation in July which lasted for 10 hours and featured nearly 130 speeches.

Among the backers were former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey who shocked many by declaring he had reversed his opposition - but the issue remains highly controversial and is set to provoke further fierce discussion.

“Turning a blind eye to suffering is no longer an option”

Sarah Wootton

The backbench bill’s chance of progress is limited, as more than 170 amendments have been tabled for debate today, meaning it could fall due to a lack of parliamentary time.

Campaign group Dignity in Dying’s chief executive Sarah Wootton said she hoped a majority of peers would “work to make progress” on the issue instead of attempting to talk it out.

She said: “The Assisted Dying Bill was unanimously passed at second reading in the House of Lords and it is imperative that parliament engages constructively at committee stage.

“In light of the Supreme Court’s warning that parliament must act, along with massive public support for change, it is concerning that opponents of change have set out a strategy to ‘strangle the bill’ at committee stage,” she noted.

Dignity in Dying

Sarah Wootton

“That said, we remain hopeful that a majority of peers will work to make progress on this important issue.

“Without a change in the law, dying Britons will continue to travel to Dignitas, take their own lives behind closed doors in this country, or be illegally helped to die by doctors,” added Ms Wootton.

“We need a safeguarded law with adequate safeguards which provides greater protection and gives dying people choice and control at the end of life,” she said.

“Parliament decided at second reading that it is a question of how, not if, we legislate on this issue,” she said. “Turning a blind eye to suffering is no longer an option.”

 

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Readers' comments (3)

  • michael stone

    “Why is it that when people who are not disabled want 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?'

    I had no idea, that 'we' did that !

    What bothers me, is what was written about here:

    R H Pyne:
    http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4349/rr/760507

    Assisted suicide is a very 'fraught and heated' issue, as I pointed out at:

    http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4739/rr/761294

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  • I can understand concerns from people that when the time comes they, or their loved ones may have to suffer pain and discomfort before their life is though, however that is not a good enough reason to support this law. The word 'disabled' is not clearly defined except in the context of how long they are 'likely' to live. It is therefore more than 'likely' that most of us will at some stage in our lives become 'disabled' through old age. My worry is that the pressure on the old to end their lives, not be a burden and not spend whatever money they have left on expensive care in their closing months (or even years), will become overwhelming. Is this really what we want for our future? I have nursed my mother and my beloved sister through their final days and never once did I feel I could not provide adequate pain relief. Is it likely that the morphine they were given hastened their deaths? Yes probably, but that was not assisted suicide, that was caring! They both died with family around them, supported and loved. However what about those with no one who cares? Will the state just decide they are of no further use and 'allow' them to be 'put down'. I would like those who advocate assisted suicide to remember that is a very slippery slope they are sitting on and none of us may like what is at the end of it!!

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  • michael stone

    Carol Ellison | 7-Nov-2014 4:01 pm

    Carol, from what I heard on Radio 4 this morning, the Bill is being so 'safeguarded' as to be effectively useless in any event.

    There is an issue with this:

    'Is it likely that the morphine they were given hastened their deaths? Yes probably, but that was not assisted suicide, that was caring!'

    http://www.dignityincare.org.uk/Discuss_and_debate/Discussion_forum/?obj=viewThread&threadID=680&forumID=45

    I'm not even sure that the word 'disabled' appears in the Bill (I admit to not having read the Bill itself, as opposed to discussions of the Bill) - but I am 100% against any idea 'those of no further use' should be 'put down'. However, if I'm suffering intolerably, and my diagnosis is terminal, I think 'being helped to die' should be my choice: this one is always going to be 'very heated'.



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