Baroness Finlay Explains Why We Should Not Legalise Assisted Suicide
LEGALISING assisted suicide for terminally ill people is unnecessary, discriminatory and unsafe.
It is unnecessary because the law we have - the Suicide Act 1961 - combines deterrence with compassion. The penalties it holds in reserve are serious enough to deter people who might want to help others out of this life for malicious, manipulative or abuse reasons - for example, to inherit or to be rid of a care burden.
This ensures that cases of assisted suicide are rare - less than 20 cases a year cross the desk of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in the whole of England and Wales. It also ensures the few cases that do occur are usually ones where there has been serious soul-searching by whoever assists the suicide.
Such cases are not prosecuted - the law gives the DPP discretion not to press charges where the evidence shows there has been no abuse and that the circumstances are genuinely compassionate.
So the law has a strong hand to deter assisting suicide but a kind heart in the way it weighs up the evidence and does not have to prosecute.
How would this change if we were to have a law licensing assisted suicide? Look at the US state of Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill people was legalised in 1997. The number of legal assisted suicides in Oregon has quadrupled since the law came into force. Oregon's death rate from legal assisted suicide is the equivalent of more than 1,000 cases a year in England and Wales.
Licensing assisted suicide for terminally ill people is a step too far.
Britain is almost unique in the world in its provision of palliative care. A recent international survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Britain first for the quality of care of the dying.
Palliative medicine is recognised in Britain as a clinical speciality, like oncology or paediatrics, with rigorous training requirements for its practitioners.
That is not the case in most other countries. Specialist palliative care here in Wales is more universally available across the nation than in other parts of the UK.
Legalising assisted suicide for terminally ill people is discriminatory. The law is there to protect us, from others and sometimes ourselves.
An assisted suicide law says in effect that, if you are terminally ill, a more lenient view will be taken of someone who helps you to commit suicide than would be taken if you were in good health.
Such a message is unacceptable in an inclusive society - it says that if you are ill your life is less worthy of protection in law. The criminal law must apply to all of us equally, irrespective of wealth, age, gender, race, disability and state of health.
Those who want to change the law tell us not to worry because their law would come with safeguards.
But the safeguards they propose are simply inadequate.
For example, they say that legal assisted suicide would be limited to people who have six months to live - Lord Falconer's self-styled commission on assisted dying recently extended this to 12. …