A former High Court judge has warned that supposed safeguards under an assisted suicide law could never protect vulnerable people.
Baroness Butler-Sloss issued a firm warning against legalising assisted suicide in a letter to The Times today, ahead of a vote in the House of Commons on Friday.
MPs will debate Rob Marris’ Bill, which would allow patients who are thought to have less than six months to live to obtain lethal drugs to kill themselves.
Coercion or abuse
Lady Butler-Sloss argued that if passed, the Bill would present “significant public safety risks”.
She explained that given the huge opposition to assisted suicide from doctors it would be difficult to find a medic who knew the patient and therefore they would be “wholly ill-equipped to judge whether coercion or abuse has really taken place”.
She also expressed deep concern over plans for every case to be referred to a High Court judge, who is required to make a decision within the “very limited timescale” of six to fourteen days.
No real protection
I think it is a Pandora’s box that will fundamentally change the ethics of our societyDr Liam Fox MP
Baroness Butler-Sloss said: “My experience of presiding over the Family Division of the High Court showed me again and again how subtle and calculated the pressure, coercion and even control exerted on a vulnerable individual can be.
“The safeguards provide no real protection to the truly vulnerable and they will fall apart if this bill becomes law.”
A senior Conservative MP has also heavily criticised the assisted suicide Bill, describing it as a “Pandora’s box that will fundamentally change the ethics of our society”.
Do no harm
Former defence secretary Liam Fox, who also used to be a GP, highlighted that the “number one rule of the medical profession is ‘do no harm'”.
He said: “This changes brutally and profoundly the relationship between doctors and patients.”
He added that there is a “huge difference morally and ethically” between giving patients morphine with the primary effect of alleviating suffering and “giving someone a substance designed to kill them”.
Fellow Tory MP Fiona Bruce urged readers on the Christian Today website to share their concerns about legalising assisted suicide with their MP.
She praised the hospice movement, and argued that more funding for palliative care is needed, rather than the “premature ending of lives”.
“Why are we even thinking about helping a handful of people to die when we have so much more to do to helping huge numbers of ageing, sick or disabled people to live as well and as comfortably as they can?
“Changing the law would mean a radical setback in our creation of a society that offers assisted living, not assisted dying.”
Opponents of the assisted suicide Bill have set up the website notoassistedsuicide.org.uk to enable people to contact their MP ahead of Friday’s vote.