New par­lia­men­tary bid to le­galise as­sisted sui­cide

The Church of England - - FRONT PAGE -

MPs ARE TO HAVE a free vote on a bill al­low­ing doc­tors to help ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients to die. The bill, which has been drawn up by Lord Fal­coner, is ex­pected to be de­bated within a few months.

Nor­man Lamb, Lib­eral Demo­crat min­is­ter with re­spon­si­bil­ity for care of the el­derly and the dis­abled, has an­nounced that he will vote in favour of the bill. He told the Sun­day Tele­graph that the Govern­ment should not ‘stand in the way’ of people who want to end their life pro­vid­ing that ap­pro­pri­ate reg­u­la­tions were in place.

Opin­ion polls sug­gest that up to 75 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion sup­port as­sisted sui­cide al­though church lead­ers have op­posed the pol­icy. Ac­cord­ing to the Daily Mail 30 per cent of MPs sup­port a change in the law and 40 per cent are un­de­cided, mean­ing that there is a strong like­li­hood that the mea­sure will be passed.

At present help­ing some­one to end their life can lead to a pun­ish­ment of up to 14 years in prison but in 2010 the then Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions, Keith Starmer, an­nounced that any­one ‘act­ing out of com­pas­sion’ who helped a loved one to die who had reached a ‘set­tled and in­formed’ de­ci­sion was un­likely to be charged.

The guide­lines were is­sued in re­sponse to a case brought by Deb­bie Purdy, a ter­mi­nally ill woman who won a rul­ing in 2008 re­quir­ing Mr Starmer to say whether her hus­band would be pros­e­cuted for ac­com­pa­ny­ing her to the Swiss Dig­ni­tas clinic to die.

The bill drawn up by Lord Fal­coner al­lows doc­tors to pre­scribe a fa­tal dose of drugs to people who have less than six months to live. Two doc­tors would be re­quired to sign the pre­scrip­tion.

Pa­tients would be ex­pected to take the drug them­selves al­though doc­tors would be able to help them if they had dif­fi­culty in swal­low­ing.

The bill will be first in­tro­duced into the House of Lords within the next four months. If passed, it will then go to the Commons.

Sup­port­ers of the bill say it will help people who are in great suf­fer­ing and that it is nec­es­sary to give le­gal clar­ity to the present sit­u­a­tion fol­low­ing the state­ment of Keith Starmer in 2010.

Op­po­nents say that it is dif­fi­cult for doc­tors to pre­dict with cer­tainty how long some­one will live. There is con­cern that people who feel a bur­den to their fam­i­lies will feel un­der an obli­ga­tion to end their lives. Crit­ics also worry that the bill will give fur­ther im­pe­tus to a grow­ing trend to deny el­derly pa­tients medicines that might pro­long their lives.

In a lec­ture at Ox­ford in 2012, an Aus­tralian Catholic bishop and bioethi­cist, Anthony Fisher, warned against an at­ti­tude that saw the el­derly as ‘a swarm of vo­ra­cious but un­wor­thy con­sumers of re­sources which doc­tors must guard them from’.

He ar­gued that age should not be a cri­te­rion for health care dis­tri­bu­tion but there have been grow­ing com­plaints that el­derly pa­tients have not only be de­prived of medicines but also de­nied food and flu­ids in or­der to has­ten their death.

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