Assisted dying debated by Lords

By Liz Stephens

The House of Lords is currently debating the coroners and justice bill as prominent members seek to amend the Suicide Act of 1961.

Peers are discussing proposals by Lord Falconer calling for an end to the threat of prosecution for those helping terminally ill friends and relatives to travel abroad to die.

More than 100 people from the UK have gone to Swiss clinic Dignitas to die and, as yet, no-one has been prosecuted for assisting them.

However, such actions are currently deemed illegal under the Suicide Act.

The former lord chancellor’s amendments will call for the law to be voided if two doctors confirm the person is both terminally ill and competent enough to make such a decision.

The motion will also say that the person travelling abroad to die will have to make a declaration that they have decided to have an assisted death and this should be witnessed by an independent person.

Lord Falconer said: “No one has the stomach to enforce the current law, because it is inhumane and further provides no protection for the vulnerable.”

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “I hope they have the courage to do what is desperately needed and change the law to end the unnecessary threat of prosecution while safeguarding against abuse.”

However, Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing Alliance, an umbrella group of doctors, religious organisations and charities, said changing the law could be “dangerous” as it could lead to vulnerable people being pushed into euthanasia.

The amendments follow a series of court battles by Debbie Purdy, who is terminally ill with multiple sclerosis and seeking clarification over whether her husband would face prosecution for helping her travel to Switzerland.