Assisted Suicide Law Faces Big Fight

Article excerpt

Byline: Trevor Mason

A backbench bid to legalise assisted suicide for incurable and terminally-ill patients cleared its first parliamentary hurdle last night but stands virtually no chance of becoming law.

Crossbencher Lord Joffe's Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill was given an unopposed second reading by peers, in keeping with tradition, after an impassioned seven-hour debate.

But the measure faced strong opposition from peers of all parties, as well as from disability and doctors groups outside Parliament, and looks certain to be blocked at a later stage.

At the close of the marathon debate, in which more than 50 peers took part, Lord Joffe acknowledged opinion was clearly divided.

Tories opposed the measure.

Government health spokeswoman Baroness Andrews insisted ministers were not opposed to the Bill but 'listening intently' to the debate.

At present, she said, the Government had no plans to change the law in this area but was improving palliative care for the terminally-ill.

The proposed legislation would allow voluntary euthanasia under strict conditions and safeguards.

It has won support from right-to-die campaigners, including the widower of Diane Pretty, the motor neurone disease sufferer who lost her High Court fight to have her husband help her end her life.

But disability groups reacted furiously to the plans, saying they would fail the most vulnerable and place a 'duty to die' on disabled people and Catholic bishops urged peers to reject the proposals, claiming they would weaken protection afforded to the elderly and sick and destroy trust between patients and doctors.

Opening the debate, crossbencher Lord Joffe said 80 per cent of the public backed the move, which included stringent safeguards to make sure it did not hit the rights and interests of the vulnerable. …