Lords to debate assisted suicide

Vulnerable patients will be at risk if the House of Lords votes to weaken the law on assisted suicide when it debates the matter later today, critics say.

Euthanasia groups are backing amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill which will allow assisted suicide in some circumstances.

But opponents say the proposed changes are ill thought out, open to abuse, and leave disabled and terminally ill people feeling like their lives are not worth living.

Writing on the Guardian website the chairwoman of the all-party disability group, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, said: “Today I and hundreds of other disabled and terminally ill people want you to know, we do not want assisted dying to be legalised for ‘people like us’.”

She pointed out that: “Not one organisation of or for disabled and terminally ill people has campaigned for the changes proposed.”

She added: “They appear not to have noticed that the days of others knowing what is best for disabled and terminally ill people are past.

“We are now empowered and we know what we need to play a full part in society. We want help to live – not help to die.”

At the weekend Lord McColl, a former Professor of Surgery at Guy’s Hospital in London, rubbished the ‘safeguards’ contained in the assisted suicide amendments.

He said: “We are hearing the usual incantations about ‘safeguards’. In fact, when you look closely at what is being proposed, the safeguards are near to non-existent.”

He added: “In truth, far from offering ‘safeguards’, this amendment would introduce new hazards.

“It would just fast-track assisted suicides. The only people for whom it would make life easier are the relatives.”

He continued: “It is hardly surprising therefore that most doctors don’t want anything to do with this sort of thing. They are only too aware of the vulnerability of their seriously ill patients and of the need for them to be given more, not less, protection by the law.”

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of pro-euthanasia group Dignity in Dying, wants to see the assisted suicide amendments succeed.

She said she hopes the House of Lords has “the courage to do what is desperately needed and change the law to end the unnecessary threat of prosecution while safeguarding against abuse.”

But Dr Peter Saunders of the Care Not Killing alliance said the current law should be kept unchanged. “It has a stern face to deter abuse and a kind heart to allow compassion in hard cases,” he said.

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