The Assisted Dying Bill

Lord Norton

Some people query the value of Private Members’ Bills on the grounds that relatively few make it to the statute book.  My view is that they are extremely valuable for raising issues, getting them debated and, in so doing, testing the arguments for and against.  Some of the issues covered by Private Members’ Bills attract far greater public interest than the normal run of Government Bills.  They can thus serve an important safety valve function, letting people express their views, be it by e-mail, petition or demonstration, as well as putting pressure on Government.  If there is clear support for a Bill, there is a case for returning to the issue and pursuing it, with a view to persuading Government to bring in a Bill of its own. The Assisted Dying Bill is a good example of a Bill attracting considerable interest.  In recent times, I have had more letters on the Bill than on any Government measure.  The Bill had its second day in committee last Friday.  You can read the discussion on amendments here

There was not time to get through all the amendments on Friday.  Given that, the Bill will not make progress.  Even if it got through the House, there would not be time for it in the Commons.  However, the debate on the Bill has enabled the arguments to be heard.  Significantly, there were two votes.  The first, on whether to designate the measure as constituting ‘assistance with suicide’  was rejected by 179 votes to 106.  The terminology may not seem crucial, but it was a means of testing support for, and opposition to, the Bill.  A second vote was also won by supporters of the Bill, this time by 119 votes to 61.  The breakdown of voting on the first amendment showed that most Labour, Liberal Democrat and cross-bench peers voted against the amendment, with Conservative peers basically split down the middle.

The importance of the votes was to show the degree of support for the Bill, which now appears considerably higher than when the Bill was first introduced several years ago by Lord Joffe.  It provides an impetus for supporters to continue  with their campaign and to press Government either to legislate on the issue or to provide time for debate on a Private Member’s Bill.  After Friday’s debate, it is clear that there is a growing momentum favouring action.

11 comments for “The Assisted Dying Bill

  1. tizres
    22/01/2015 at 4:24 pm

    Might it be instructive/constructive to review the more recent debates on changing the default (opt-in) for organ donation? In particular, alongside the natural fear of when one dies is the more rational fear of how one dies, and by whose hands. There appears to be a tug of will over who owns our bodies.

  2. Bill Jones
    22/01/2015 at 5:34 pm

    Assisted dying along with a living will and where would we be?
    Living will ie “donation” of organs will.

  3. Senex
    23/01/2015 at 4:56 pm

    What is the difference between assisted dying and suicide?

    Lord Winston (Lab): My Lords, with great respect to my noble friend Lord Pannick, I disagree, and totally agree with the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill. There is another issue beyond clarity here. One of the issues that was raised at Second Reading and, I think, on the first day in Committee was the concept that fragile and possibly deranged, angry and distressed elderly people coming into hospital have of the nature of their status as patients. The use of the word “suicide” brings clarity for them, because it makes a very big difference to medical and nursing practitioners, who can quite clearly see that they will not be involved in a process of assisted dying. [Column 1007]

    Lord Cormack: If I ask my noble friend to give me a cup of hemlock, telling him that I am going to drink it, and he gives it to me and I drink it, have I committed suicide or not? [Column 1018]

    Lord Tebbit (Con): I wonder if I could briefly settle this matter. I have just taken the extraordinary step of going to the Library and consulting the Oxford English Dictionary. I take it that most of us would accept the definitions of the Oxford English Dictionary. No one seems to dissent from that, so I will tell the House what it says here:
    “suicide, n. The … act of taking one’s own life, self-murder”.
    Can we settle the matter now? [Column 1017]

    A Labour bill dressed up as a deadly euphemism.

    Ref: Assisted Dying Bill [HL] 16 Jan 2015

    • Lord Norton
      27/01/2015 at 11:22 am

      Senex: I suggest you read the rest of the debate, including the contribution from Lord Carey. The measure affects people who are terminally ill, in other words already dying.

  4. maude elwes
    28/01/2015 at 11:16 am

    Already thousands of elderly and their families are terrified at the prospect of being hospitalised and or shoved into something called a ‘care home.’ This naughty bit of legislation will only serve to exacerbate their terror no end.

    Assisted dying is assisted self murder only a euphemism for it. And given free right in our present NHS this will be far worse than the horror they have in Holland. Read all about it.

    Could it be our government wants to make it so terrifying to go into our hospitals that this is the method they are choosing to keep the oldies from daring to call an ambulance? Wouldn’t surprise me in the least. That would help the numbers drop to zero quite quickly

    And remember this, it may be your mother they decide to assist by starvation and dehydration and a little cyanide as a friend.

  5. Fiona Wilson
    29/01/2015 at 7:16 pm

    if someone has a teminal illness and is dying then it should be their right to die with dignity

  6. MilesJSD
    29/01/2015 at 9:42 pm

    We need more than just “Assisted Suicide” legislation.

    Evidently there are seriously based books available, for the legal practical help to end one’s already expired ‘life’:
    a friend gave me a very knowledgeable and wise work, but it is of the United States’s constitution, law, medical, religious and cultural prevailings,
    and therefore not of much legal and practical use to us in the UK;
    but it is a widely and deeply interesting work

    “A Graceful Exit: life and death on your own Terms” by Lofty L.Basta, M.D. with Carole Post, PhD.

    I believe there is a UK publication “Final Exit” which is very seriously trying to find a ‘win-win’ or at any rate ‘No-Lose’ way through this ‘end of life’ matter.

    Especially or of focal concern should be the disabling effects of agony and debilitation, by which the sufferer’s life has already ended, and s/he is in a real sense being insidiously tortured and killed-off.

    Even so by those highly paid to help: Religious, Medical, Nursing, Pharmacological, Legal, Health-Building-&-Supportive-People, including the ‘we-win – you-lose’ majorities of Families and Friends, and the main body of Participative Democracy planners and voters, are the ‘torturers’; and the same through failing to constitute a Holistic-Health-Building Service in its own right and contrastingly with the Medical,

    and the National Health Service which has always been really good, but alone and monopolisticly as the National Illnesses & Hospitals Sector – ‘only’, because it is ‘dog-in-mangering’ against a Holistic-Health-Building People Service forming, succeeding, and being nationally constituted.

  7. 30/01/2015 at 2:11 pm

    What percentage of deaths in the UK include a meaningful element of choice?
    Medical doctors will be more supportive if the life-ending decisions that take place every day in modern hospitals form at least part of the background for discussions of how to organize the right-to-die. For example, withdrawing life-supports is a very common way for a patient’s life to end. Informal safeguards used for making such end-of-life decisions could be included in any new legislation formalizing end-of-life decision-making. Such an emphasis would move the discussion away from the suicide-model toward the medical model.
    Even law-makers initially opposed to the so-called “right-to-die” might be open to this new approach that takes into account what modern end-of-life medical care already includes. A more comprehensive approach bans harming the dying patient rather than grants specific permission for those who request it.

  8. maude elwes
    02/02/2015 at 1:39 pm

    It is really time those who wish this fate on us all must broaden their horizons and look at the reality of this issue rather than play the blind eye game.

    Have you read what is going on in Holland? Forget the USA they lie far worse than we do about what they want to push through at any given time. So, take a read of this.

    Once you have fully recognised what is going on in civilized Europe, move on to this little thought. How do any of us know what those they are ‘killing’ are actually physically suffering as their death takes place? No, don’t run away and play I don’t want to hear this, because, you will be hearing it when the families begin to open their mouths about what happened to my mother, father or now child.

    In that great civilisation across the big pond they have capital punishment. Have had for as long as I can remember, yet, they cannot humanely put to death those they want to take revenge on, even to this day. Therefore, how will you know what mistakes can and will take place under this little death bill. What if we won’t die quickly or peacefully, as in the case of this man, who was lined up to die for his crime. Mercy killing and the death penalty are no different. The act of killing another human being takes place. A different name does not smell any different. As the bard told us so eloquently.

    We then need to move on to the discussion of accountability. When this bill is passed, are those who took this decision forward and made it legal going to be ready to be charged with murder? Once the families and those complainers who don’t like what has happened to their dead family member begin to see the light they are going to be calling for reprisal against those who should have known better. Those behind it. I know we don’t have the death penalty in this country, but, this project is just that, legalising a death penalty. And those who think they know all and are willing to take this step for all of us to have faith in, should be willing to pay the same price they are intending to inflict on others. And if they are not willing to bear that responsibility they should stay as far away from this deadly move as they can.

  9. Senex
    05/02/2015 at 11:43 am

    Obfuscation or to eschew obfuscation smacks of redundancy; the real issue is one of a ‘perfect kill’ one acceptable to the courts. This bill as primary legislation is therefore unsuitable for the intended purpose because members can avoid the thorny issue of prescribing the exact manner of death.

    This reminds us of the Third Reich executive locking people away in 1930’s concentration camps and not knowing what to do with them. When it became apparent they were dying it did not move to prescribe a manner of death, well not at first, rather it was left it to concentration camp management to experiment.

    Primary legislation acts in a similar way. It is unacceptable that members cogitate on whether people should be allowed to commit suicide without affording the suicider the dignity of a prescribed and legally acceptable manner of death. A bill such as this can only be the remit of government.

    The former Lord Chancellor who has brought this bill to the house knows this only too well. There is a distinct smell of duplicity and it is clear that the government and Labour Party intend to use this bill if enacted to return us to capital punishment and the involuntary death sentence.

    Are we to ask medical practitioners in our hospitals to become latter day Josef Mengeles’ to experiment in a place of life and healing with the black arts of voluntary death? The only black arts that can be legally practised is for High Court Judges to removed black squares of cloth tucked into their belts and place it upon their heads to condemn the guilty to an involuntary death.

    Let the prison service prescribe and experiment and when they have found the ‘perfect death’ let government revisit the issues raised by this bill not the members of a house with one foot in the grave.

    Ref: Josef Mengele, Schutzstaffel Officer and Physician

    • Lord Norton
      06/02/2015 at 9:39 am

      Senex: You have rather missed the obvious point that it is the person who is terminally ill making the choice – not someone else.

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