Plans to give courts just two weeks to decide if a person can be helped to commit suicide could lead to judges ‘rubber stamping’ applications without considering the details of each case, MPs have warned.
The comments came as Parliament prepares to debate Rob Marris’ assisted suicide Bill, which will allow patients thought to have less than six months to live to get help to kill themselves.
A draft of the Bill says that a person can be assisted to commit suicide if consent is given by a High Court judge.
It reads: “Upon receiving an application by the person, the High Court shall dispose of it within 14 days or as soon as reasonably practical thereafter.”
But Marris’ Labour colleague Robert Flello MP warned that the requirement “does nothing” to dispel the fears of the disabled community.
“Our courts are already overstretched. There is no way that judges will have time to scrutinise the details of every case within such a tight time limit.”
He added: “These decisions will end up being made by clerks and rubber stamped by a judge along with a pile of other papers.”
Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said the requirement for a High Court judge to approve an assisted suicide application will not be a sufficient safeguard.
She argued: “A judge, not knowing an individual’s circumstances or the pressures on them, would be unable to discern whether a request for assisted suicide was being made of a person’s free will”.
“Doctors now don’t know the home circumstances of a patient so how much less will a judge?
“There are no safeguards which could adequately protect a vulnerable or elderly person from the risk of them feeling a burden either to their family or to the NHS.”
Senior barrister Lord Carlile of Berriew said the two-week requirement is “merely asking the judge to rubber stamp some procedural acts agreed by the doctors rather than examine the merits”.
Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP and former cancer specialist nurse, also criticised Marris’ Bill, warning that there is “no rational reason” for restricting assisted suicide to people who are terminally ill.
Writing in The Times (£), she said: “Suicide is not something to be encouraged or assisted.
“And to place within clinical practice the lethal drugs for those who want help to kill themselves seems to me particularly pernicious.
Impossible to control
“Once you let the ‘assisted dying’ beast out of the cage, it’s impossible to control. The law that we have is sensible. We tinker with this law at our peril”, she concluded.
Marris’ assisted suicide Bill has been described as “essentially the same” as Lord Falconer’s Bill, which failed to pass in the last Parliament.
MPs are set to debate the legislation on 11 September.