A former Bishop of Liverpool has warned that legalising assisted suicide would give institutions “unaccountable power” over the vulnerable.
In his letter, the Rt Revd James Jones warned peers against Lord Forsyth’s amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill. If passed, the amendment would force the Government to put a draft Bill before Parliament to permit the assisted suicide of those deemed terminally ill.
Bishop Jones said: “To change the culture of caring in favour of providing ‘medical assistance’ for patients to ‘end their own lives’ creates too many risks and leaves us unprotected from the patronising way in which institutions, including sadly Hospital Trusts, can behave towards ordinary people.”
He told former colleagues that he does not share the “assumption that the treatment of the seriously ill will always be benign in the hands of the State”.
The Bishop left the House of Lords in 2013 before being commissioned to carry out reports into the Hillsborough Disaster and the Gosport War Memorial Hospital. The Gosport Independent Panel found that 456 lives were cut short and a further 200 people were most likely given drugs without medical justification between 1987 and 2001.
Reflecting on his past experience, he said: “If prescribing such fatal doses could happen with the law and safeguarding as they now stand, then I fear what might develop if the law and culture are changed to permit the ending of life ‘with medical assistance'”.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, former editor Charles Moore reflected that the problems raised by Bishop Jones are “grave even under the existing law which forbids assisted suicide”, before adding, “Imagine how much worse it could get if the same authorities were allowed to help the almost powerless kill themselves”.
Earlier this month, a highly respected palliative care expert warned that Baroness Meacher’s assisted suicide Bill risks becoming a “cheap solution for human suffering”.
Writing for The House magazine, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff said that legalising assisted suicide would hinder proper care and the Bill offers nothing in the way of safeguards for the vulnerable.
In October last year, over sixty members of the House of Lords spoke out against Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill, which seeks to legalise giving lethal drugs to those deemed to have less than six months to live to end their lives.
The Bill is now at Committee Stage, but faces many more hurdles before it can become law.