‘People can be coerced’: the case against assisted dying

Published on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 10:05
Written by Daniel Mason

The House of Lords spent the best part of 10 hours debating the emotional and divisive topic of assisted dying on Friday.

By the end of the marathon session more than 60 speakers had put the case for and a similar number had argued against. The bill - which would give a mentally competent adult judged to have less than six months to live the right to request life ending medication from a doctor - then passed its second reading without a vote.

Safeguards to prevent abuse, pressure on doctors, the impact on relatives, and the legal implications: all were up for discussion. Here are some of the most powerful arguments made by opponents of the bill.

1. "The bill proposes that assistance to suicide will be made lawful within six months, reasonably estimated, of death. What is the principle that gives such an importance to six months? Why should a course of action that may attract a prison sentence suddenly become lawful because a person is thought to be within six months of death?"

- Lord Mackay, a former lord chancellor.

2. "It is possible to think abstractly that one's early death would be welcome to one's nearest family and would spare them trouble. But in fact the best service one could do for them would be to accept their care and to show appreciation of them at the end of one's life."

- The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu.

3. "The bill would provide a route to great savings in public and private expenditure, and to a great pressure on the elderly, the sick and the disabled to do the decent thing and cease to be a burden on others. Those who care for such people are all too familiar with the moments of black despair that prompt those words, 'I would be better dead, so that you could get on with your life'."

- Lord Tebbit.

4. "This bill proposes a fundamental change in the relationship between doctors, patients and families. We have to recognise that not everyone's motives are altruistic; not everyone has a caring family. People can be coerced. We do not live in a halcyon world where choice generally exists for everyone."

- Baroness Grey-Thompson, former Paralympian.

5. "This bill ignores the aspirations of those who want to live but who fear approaching old age, illness and death. That fear can only be exacerbated by the perception that public servants are to be accredited with a licence to kill them."

- Lord Cavendish, patron of St Mary's Hospice.

6. "We have been talking intensively in this debate about the dignity of a planned death. I do not believe in that planned death being dignified. There is much more dignity in many ways in being able to ensure that people wherever possible die with their relatives around them in an unplanned death in the way that my mother died, with her youngest grandson present."

- Lord Winston, scientist.

The bill will now pass to committee stage but without the support of the government it is unlikely that MPs in the House of Commons will get a chance to debate it, meaning it will not become law.

What do you think? Vote in our poll and let us know your view in the comments below - and check out what supporters of the bill had to say here.

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