Lord Alderdice has tabled an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill that would make assisted suicide lawful under certain conditions.
Under the amendment it would be legal to help someone to commit suicide if they were suffering from a “confirmed, incurable and disabling illness” and a coroner believed it was “the free and settled wish of the person that he brings his life to a close”.
Lord Alderdice’s attempt follows news that a suicide facility in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal for sufferers of terminal illness, is under investigation for helping a physically healthy but depressed man to kill himself.
Pro-life campaigners said such cases were to be expected as the consequence of weakening the law on assisted suicide.
It is likely that other Peers will seek to use the Bill, which contains other measures relating to assisted suicide, as an opportunity to try to weaken the law.
The Government says it is not minded to support any changes to the law on assisted suicide using this Bill, though it has promised Labour Peers a free vote on the issue.
Opening the Lords Second Reading debate on the Bill last week Government Minister Lord Bach said “the issue of doctor-assisted dying is too important and too profound for it to be slipped into a passing Government Bill”.
During the debate many Peers warned of the dangers of allowing assisted suicide in any form.
Lord Hylton referred to serial killer Harold Shipman, the former GP who is thought to have murdered around 250 of his patients. The Peer warned that “public protection” had to be a first priority.
He told the House: “I argue that many people, especially the feeble-minded, the frail, the elderly, the confused or the chronically ill, are particularly vulnerable. They deserve our protection against coercion or persuasion to take their own lives.”
Mention was also made of the controversy surrounding the Swiss suicide facility, where so far more than 100 Britons have ended their lives.
Some Peers spoke of allowing those who help individuals travel to the clinic from the UK to escape prosecution under the assisted suicide law. The Director of Public Prosecutions has not yet pursued any such cases.
However, Lord Neill of Bladen said legalising a suicide trip to Switzerland would be “diametrically opposed” to the other clauses in the Bill which maintain the ban on assisted suicide in the UK.
The full wording of the exception Lord Alderdice wants added to the law is: “Notwithstanding sections 49 to 51, no offence shall have been committed if assistance is given to a person to commit suicide who is suffering from a confirmed, incurable and disabling illness which prevents him from carrying through his own wish to bring his life to a close, if the person has received certification from a coroner who has investigated the circumstances, and satisfied himself that it is indeed the free and settled wish of the person that he brings his life to a close.”
Amendments will be considered in Committee Stage on 9 and 10 June.