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Friday 13 December 2019

'Historic moment' as UK peers debate right-to-die bill

Lord Falconer. Photo: PA
Lord Falconer. Photo: PA

Tim Sculthorpe

The British parliament has seized the gauntlet of assisted dying from the courts, the government said last night.

Moving his Assisted Dying Bill to its next Parliamentary stage, Lord Falconer said it was a "historic" moment after nearly 130 speeches were made in a marathon debate lasting almost 10 hours.

As it is an issue of individual conscience, Justice Minister Lord Faulks said the government would leave parliament to reach an ultimate verdict on the bill but pledged ministers' attention to ensuring any new law would work effectively and as parliament intended.

He said: "I praise all Noble Lords for picking up the gauntlet thrown down by the Supreme Court. Parliament is now seized of the issue raised by the bill and this debate has illustrated clearly it is very much up to the task."

A titanic debate saw impassioned speeches both for and against the bill, which would offer the chance of assisted dying to terminally ill patients deemed mentally capable and within six months of likely death.


Presenting the bill, Lord Falconer said: "The current situation leaves the rich able to go to Switzerland, the majority reliant on amateur assistance, the compassionate treated like criminals.

"They hoard pills or put a plastic bag over their head when they are alone... It is time for a change in the law but only a very limited and safeguarded change.

"It would not lead to more death but to less suffering."

Among the peers backing the bill was former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey of Clifton, who insisted assisted dying was compatible with a Christian faith.

He said he "regretted enormously" the shock he had given friends with his recent change of heart on the issue but insisted he could not "repent of a position I believe more closely models and reflects God's mercy and love".

Crossbencher Baroness Greengross, who spent more than two decades as director general of Age Concern England, said older people wanted to continue to be treated as adults and not as "lesser individuals".

She said: "Without (the bill), at its most basic, we are going to deny certain people who are terminally ill and become disabled the right that every other adult has in this country: the right to terminate their life."

Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury, who has a rare form of cancer, argued that tens of thousands of terminally ill people facing "weeks of torture" must be given a "means of escape".

And independent crossbench peer Baroness Murphy, who worked as a doctor among other health roles, added she was "proud to be associated" with the bill.

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