Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Thursday, July 17, 2014
A move with unintended consequences, or a compassionate change to the law?
Opinions vary hugely on moves to bring in a change to the law on assisted dying.
Tomorrow, peers will have a chance to debate legislation going through parliament as former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer’s bill on assisted dying reaches its second reading in the House of Lords.
There have been interventions on the issue from many high-profile quarters, most notably former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who changed his position saying at the weekend that he would back legislation to allow the terminally ill in England and Wales get help to end their lives.
It saw the Church of England call for a Royal Commission to allow the “important issue” to be discussed at length.
Speaking on behalf of the CofE, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, said the bill should be withdrawn to allow the inquiry to take place – a call which was immediately rejected by Lord Falconer, the Labour peer who tabled it.
And yesterday, the Prime Minister spoke of his “worry” about legalising euthanasia, saying he was “not convinced that further steps need to be taken”, adding that “people might be being pushed into things that they don’t actually want for themselves”.
Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales, technically punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
A poll this week found that almost three-quarters of Britons support a change in the law on the right to die.
The ComRes poll for ITV’s Tonight programme found that 70pc would support allowing assisted dying under the measures proposed in the Assisted Dying Bill.
The legislation would enable people with six months to live to be given assistance to end their life, as long as two doctors approved.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham
“I do understand the worries that many people have that this could be the beginning of a slippery slope, in which we don’t value the lives of disabled and frail elderly people.
So it’s crucially important that there are very tight legal and medical constraints on it, so it is not abused. I would support a Royal Commission, which the Church of England has called for.
But my late husband, Martin, died of a brain tumour. We knew it was terminal. He never went into a hospital or a hospice – we nursed him at home. He was not in pain.
But had he been in intolerable pain, and had he begged me to assist him to die, I hope I would have had enough love, and enough courage, to help him: to give him my last gift of a serene death.
He was not in pain, so we fought alongside him all the way for the best possible life in the weeks he had.
But should I, myself, be in this situation, I would want the consolation of knowing that this help was available to me.”
Baroness Howarth of Breckland
“Much of my correspondence has been from those in favour, usually independent individuals who believe that it is their right to do what they will with their lives.
More recently I have heard from disabled people, those working in palliative care and the medical profession, who have reservations. Those terminally ill, but who do not want to end their lives, are fearful that this will lead to a culture where it will be easier to kill them off. Indeed, the most worrying letter was from someone who indicated that we should be able to relieve relatives of worry by taking action. Indications from other countries shows that once the general position on the value of life is breached it is easier to take the next step. Lord Falconer’s Bill is about those with less than six months to live, but many doctors indicate that is not easily predicted and many of us know of friends given a short time gaining unexpected remission.
Where death is coming very quickly, and is certain, it may be different, and I am not in favour of needless resuscitation when someone is going to die and wishes to be allowed to do so.
At the end of the day I have decided to speak against the Bill, and if there is a vote, to vote against. What we should be doing is developing a compassionate society with good care, and not one where people become dispensable objects.”
The Bishop of Norwich
“The debate on assisted dying is sometimes heated because neither side has a monopoly of compassion.
No one is in favour of unbearable suffering. But death is irrevocable.
I’ve known people who have longed to die at a low point when faced by what was thought to be a terminal illness, but who are living a fruitful life years later.
The danger of passing a law on assisted dying is that it may provide too ready an answer for some people – who then do not have the chance to regret it.
“It is also problematic for severely disabled people who are entirely dependent on others for their well-being.
Will our attitudes to the disabled (which have come such a long way in recent years) gradually alter?
The bill before the House of Lords has surprisingly few safeguards, though I do hope it will be debated thoroughly in committee rather than simply dismissed.
While I acknowledge that the majority of people in this country favour assisted dying, I think that is because they do not wish to tolerate unbearable suffering (and rightly).
Though I also believe they
are not aware of how difficult
it is to legislate satisfactorily in this area, or what the unforeseen consequences might be.”
“I think it is a particularly dangerous bill. I know what happens among older people... I am very worried that many people, as they get on to the end of life, feel themselves a burden, and they very often have extremely unpleasant relations who put pressure on them. I don’t see how, in any way, the existence of this bill will do anything other than give way to unscrupulous relations putting pressure on older people. Older people will think to themselves ‘well it is not worth going on’.
We ought to be increasing our respect for older people. The society we live in undervalues older people and very often they can contribute significantly.
The real difficulty is that this doesn’t help some of the people it is supposed to help. I looked carefully at the safeguards, but none of them stands up. A person will not reveal the pressure they have been put under by their family. How can the doctors find out?
If you have been a member of parliament as long as I was, and you had people in and out of your surgery as much as I do, and you have visited as many old people and old people’s friends as I have done, I can tell you how many people are subject to real pressure by their relatives.
I think this bill has been put forward by people who have never understood the reality of so many people’s lives.”
Lord Howard of Castle Rising
“There are convincing arguments on both sides – I believe that is genuinely true.
This is borne out by the fact the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, changed his position.
He said he would back legislation to allow the terminally ill in England and Wales get help to end their lives.
You want to help someone in pain who wants to finish their life.
But the other side of the argument is that if you start it, where does it end? That is what would worry me.
But I do think it is the sort of thing the House of Lords should be looking at.”
Care minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has backed moves to legalise “assisted dying”.
The Liberal Democrat has said he would vote in favour of allowing terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to choose to be helped to kill themselves.
He said that there appeared to be “quite widespread public support” for ending what was a “cruel” system that left relatives unsure if they would be prosecuted.
Mr Lamb said that his own conversations with terminally-ill patients had swung his opinion in favour of legalisation.
He said: “There need to be proper safeguards – that’s critically important. You have absolutely got to guard against relatives or others seeking to get control of the estate.
“We have to be certain that it is an individual decision.”