The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has stated his intention to exempt from the threat of prosecution people who help terminally ill relatives travel abroad to commit suicide.
Should the law on assisted suicide be weakened?
Listen to Lord Falconer debate the issue with George Pitcher of The Daily Telegraph on BBC Radio 4.
Lord Falconer has tabled an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill which would create a special exception from the law on aiding or abetting another person’s suicide.
The amendment would contradict one of the purposes of the Bill, which is intended to tighten the wording on assisted suicide.
When the Bill passed through the House of Commons in March, a similar amendment was tabled by former health secretary Patricia Hewitt but MPs ran out of time to debate it.
Lord Falconer claims that his proposed change would bring the law “in line with actual practice”.
He referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), who has refused to prosecute anyone in connection with the 100 Britons who have travelled to Switzerland to end their lives at the Dignitas suicide facility.
However, the DPP has said he thinks the current law should be kept unchanged because it allows him to use his discretion to prosecute when it would be in the public interest.
Lord Falconer has labelled this situation a “fudge”, and says people should not be “dependent on the discretion of an important prosecutor”.
He admitted, however, that he approves of the way the DPP has used this discretion to date.
The former cabinet minister’s campaign has the backing of several other prominent Peers including former leader of the House Baroness Jay, Lord Low, Lord Lester, Baroness Greengross and Lord Patel.
Pro-euthanasia campaigners have welcomed Lord Falconer’s proposal.
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said: “Parliament urgently needs to acknowledge the fact that people are travelling overseas to die – and this trend shows no sign of stopping.”
But others have warned that Lord Falconer’s amendment would weaken a law which has been proven to work.
Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing alliance, said: “The current law is clear and acts as an effective deterrent to those who seek to push its boundaries whilst also giving scope for judges to temper justice with mercy in hard cases.”
The House of Lords Amendments will consider amendments in Committee Stage on 9 and 10 June.