‘They cannot endure their suffering’: the case for assisted dying

Published on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 10:14
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 supporters of the bill.

1. "I do not want it on my conscience that I have denied somebody who has become physically incapacitated and cannot endure their suffering any longer, but is unable to terminate their life without some help, the right that everyone else enjoys."

- Baroness Greengross, who was director general of Age Concern between 1987 and 2000.

2. "The current situation leaves the rich able to go to Switzerland, the majority reliant on amateur assistance, the compassionate treated like criminals and no safeguards in respect of undue pressure."

- Lord Falconer, the former lord chancellor, who proposed the bill.

3. "I was introduced to a woman who had taken her husband to Zurich. She said that the whole thing was a dreadful experience, because he was not ready to go but he was terrified lest his illness progressed to the point when he would be unable to make the journey. He wanted to die at home, surrounded by his family, instead of having to make the journey to Switzerland. That is surely another reason why the law should be changed."

- Lord Dubs, a former Labour MP.

4. "When suffering is so great that some patients, already knowing that they are at the end of life, make repeated pleas to die, it seems a denial of that loving compassion which is the hallmark of Christianity to refuse to allow them to fulfil their own clearly stated request."

- Lord Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury between 1991 and 2002.

5. "As long as the law remains unchanged...while prosecutors may have guidance that makes the prosecution of assisted suicide unlikely, each such death means a police investigation. The house will be a crime scene: tents, officers in forensic clothing, photography and the seizure of computers, last letters, presents and bank statements. This is a homicide scene and it is immensely distressing for those left behind."

- Lord Blair, the former Metropolitan police commissioner.

6. "The bill is about terminally ill people being able to have proper, advance discussion with their family and, above all, with their healthcare professionals. Evidence given to the Commission on Assisted Dying, on which I had the privilege to sit, showed that under the current law doctors and nurses feel at risk if they discuss the full range of options with their patients. This is not acceptable."

- Baroness Young of Old Scone, chief executive of Diabetes UK.

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, let us know your view in the comments below - and check out what opponents of the bill had to say here.

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