The law against assisted suicide protects us all and should not be tinkered with, a former senior family judge has warned.
Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a Peer in the House of Lords, made the comments ahead of a Supreme Court appeal this week from people who want to weaken the law.
Paul Bowen QC, who is representing supporters of a change in the law, claimed in court that the current system had “extraordinary and cruel consequences” for some disabled people.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Lady Butler-Sloss warned that “euphemisms” from supporters of the practice “may make the idea of changing the law more palatable, but they obstruct reasoned debate”.
“In plain language, ‘assisted dying’ means licensing doctors to supply lethal drugs to terminally ill patients to enable them to commit suicide”, she said.
At present the law has the ‘teeth’ to deter and the discretion “to temper justice with mercy”, but changing it would open up a new frontier which would be “easily crossed and hard to defend”.
“The law is there to protect us all. We tinker with it at our peril”, the Baroness – a former president of the family division of the High Court – said.
Her comments come as research from Holland, where euthanasia is legal, shows a fifth of people think euthanasia should be allowed for elderly people who do not have a serious illness – but are ‘tired of life’.
The academics involved said, “our finding that a substantial minority of the general public supports physician assistance in dying for older people who are tired of living implies that this topic may need to be taken seriously in the debate about end-of-life decision-making”.
In the UK this week the Supreme Court is considering the case of people who want the law to change to allow doctors to assist in suicides.
The case involves the family of Tony Nicklinson – who died last year and could only communicate by blinking and nodding – and Paul Lamb – who is paralysed.
In Westminster and Holyrood, two politicians are seeking to change the law to introduce assisted suicide, following previous defeats.