Over sixty members of the House of Lords spoke out on Friday to oppose the latest assault on end-of-life protections in England and Wales.
Peers were debating Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill which seeks to enable those deemed to have less than six months to live to get help to kill themselves.
As expected, her Bill will now move to Committee Stage but it faces many more hurdles before it can become law. In 2015, a Bill to remove existing safeguards was soundly defeated in the House of Commons by 330 votes to 118.
Conservative Peer Lord Farmer labelled the proposed legislation “an atheists’ Bill, denying God and denying eternity”. And fellow Conservative, Lord Patten, said that “death must not become the new normal to replace compassion and the care of humanity”.
Fearful of the consequences of legalising assisted suicide for the vulnerable, Labour Peer Baroness Sherlock said: “No one looking back at the treatment during the pandemic of those who were old, disabled or in care homes, should have any confidence that, when push comes to shove and we are under pressure, our society will always prioritise the needs of vulnerable and disabled people or see their lives as having equal value to those of others in society.”
an atheists’ Bill, denying God and denying eternity
Crossbench Peer Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, a disability campaigner, stated: “No one should feel that they would be better off dead.”
Crossing the Rubicon
Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie said: “For me, this Bill crosses a Rubicon, enshrined in centuries of law and medical ethics, that every human life is of value.”
every human life is of value
Palliative care expert Baroness Finlay of Llandaff said: “Modern symptom control is moving fast: you do not have to kill the patient to kill the pain. No law stops pain control, but ignorance does.”
you do not have to kill the patient to kill the pain
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned: “No amount of safeguards can perfect the human heart. No amount of regulation can make a relative kinder or a doctor infallible.
“No amount of reassurance can make a vulnerable or disabled person feel equally safe and equally valued if the law is changed in this way.”
The Minister for Justice, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, told Peers that the Government was “neutral” on the Bill. It has been reported that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid do not support relaxing safeguards.
Responding to the debate, The Christian Institute’s Ciarán Kelly said: “We are encouraged to see the strong level of opposition in the House of Lords to legalising assisted suicide.
“It is only six years since this issue was last debated in Parliament and the arguments against axing end-of-life protections are just as persuasive today.
“There can be little doubt that those pushing for assisted suicide will keep coming back – but we remain ready to make the case for the value of every person as an individual made in the image of God.”