Vulnerable protected as assisted suicide bid fails

A bid to weaken the law on assisted suicide was voted down in the House of Lords last night.

Peers voted 194 to 141 against the plan to make it legal to help someone travel overseas to commit suicide.

A disabled Peer, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, made a moving speech appealing to peers to reject the amendment.

Born with the wasting disease spinal muscular atrophy, she told of how three years ago doctors had convinced her life was at an end and that it was “time for me to go on my way”.

She warned that many vulnerable patients would face similar pressure if the law was weakened.

Baroness Campbell is a former chairman of the Disability Rights Commission and heads up the all-party disability group.

She warned the House: “Legalising premature death as a treatment option plants a seed of doubt about one’s right to demand help to live with dignity and undermines the state’s responsibility to ensure that all citizens can live with dignity.

“If this amendment were to succeed, it would place a new and invidious pressure on disabled and terminally ill people who think that they are close to the end of their lives.

“Some will consider death as preferable to fighting for support to live with dignity. It will be the cheapest, quickest and simplest option.

“Think of older people who are anxious not to cause their families any distress.”

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who tabled the amendment to weaken the existing law, argued: “It should not be a crime if you accompany someone to a country where assisted suicide is lawful, if the sole purpose of your accompaniment is to assist them in going to the place where assisted dying is lawful.”

However, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, who has a 30-year-old daughter with Down’s syndrome, told the Lords that the amendment would be “a legislative milestone on that slippery slope to introducing assisted suicide here in the UK by incremental degrees”.

Former Conservative Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay, who also opposed the changes, said: “In my view, respect for and protection of human life are a defining characteristic of a civilised society.

“This country has long had protection in place in one form or another against assisted suicide. Any proposal to alter the current position involves a judgment that a certain kind of life, or a certain span of life, has become unworthy of support from that principle.”

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