Opportunity seized by assisted suicide Peer

After judges at the High Court ruled that only Parliament could change the law on assisted suicide, Lord Joffe has announced that he will renew his failed 2006 bid to remove the ban.

Long-standing assisted suicide advocate Margo MacDonald MSP has also said she will launch an attack the Scottish ban in light of the judges’ decision.

They were both prompted by the case of multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, backed by an assisted suicide campaign group.

Miss Purdy had called for clarification over whether her husband would be prosecuted if he took her to end her life at a Swiss suicide clinic.

  • Stories of sufferers who are glad they didn’t end it all
  • Judges at the High Court refused her request yesterday, explaining that she was effectively asking for a change in the law, which only Parliament could do.

    Now Lord Joffe, whose Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was blocked by the House of Lords in 2006, says he will attempt to reintroduce it.

    He told The Times: “First we want to get a debate going before we introduce the Bill, so the issue has been explored in the public arena.

    “The introduction of the Bill will be sooner rather than later. It will be a question of when time in the parliamentary calendar can be found to consider a Private Member’s Bill.”

    In a separate Times article, he blames opposition to his original Bill on “misleading and emotive buzz phrases” used by pro-life campaigners.

    One of the most persuasive arguments during the 2006 debate came from Professor of Palliative Medicine, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff.

    She told the house: “The public need to know that 94 per cent of palliative medicine specialists in the UK oppose this Bill.

    “It is we who work day in, day out to give dignity to the dying; know the pressures and fears behind the statement, ‘I wish I were dead’; and know how often time and care that enhances dignity prove everyone wrong.”

    “A different life”

    The Times recently reported the story of Matt Hampson, a former rugby player who was paralysed from the neck down during training and now requires a ventilator to breathe.

    With the help of carers and a custom-built house, he has been able to set up a website, is writing an autobiography and is the patron of a charity for disabled children called Special Effects.

    He says: “I don’t live a bad life, I live a different life. I use my brain more than my brawn now. It has helped me become a more rounded person. I think about things more.

    “I’ve had to grow up quite a bit and do things that most 23-year-olds don’t do.”

    “I’m grateful I wasn’t allowed to end it all!”

    Alison Davis is National Co-ordinator of No Less Human.

    She was born with severe spina bifida, and is dependent on a wheelchair. She is often in extreme pain for hours at a time. She says that for many years she wanted to “end it all”.

    “If euthanasia had been legal, I would certainly have requested it and I wouldn’t be here now,” she says.

    But after several serious suicide attempts, blocked by the intervention of Alison’s friends, she began to change her mind.

    Alison met the disabled children she had been sponsoring through a charity. The experience led her to think, for the first time in over ten years, “I think I want to live”.

    She says: “I’ll always be grateful to the friends who saved my life (though I wasn’t at the time). And I’m especially thankful there was no possibility of persuading my doctors to legally help me die.”

    She believes that disabled people “deserve the same kind of help routinely given to those who do not have a physical condition but who feel suicidal”.

    “You just don’t know what will happen”

    In his book Against Physician Assisted Suicide, palliative care specialist Dr David Jeffrey tells the story of a former army instructor who was being treated for terminal cancer and was determined to commit suicide.

    After a discussion with the doctor, it emerged that he was missing the Army, and was subsequently taken to watch a passing-out parade of young recruits, where a party had been arranged in his honour.

    “His life was transformed,” Dr Jeffrey said. “He had a purpose and his demeanour completely changed. He died two weeks later, comfortably. People’s lives always have that potential. Even in the midst of suffering there can be change.

    “You just don’t know what will happen.”

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