New assisted suicide bill introduced into UK Parliament
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WESTMINSTER, U.K., May 27, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – A new bid to legalize assisted suicide has begun in the U.K., when the Assisted Dying Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on May 26, with the purported aim of alleviating “intolerable suffering.”
Meanwhile, Members of Parliament (MPs) opposed to the bill have warned that any move to legalize assisted suicide is a “slippery slope” that leads inevitably to euthanasia.
Baroness Meacher, chair of the assisted-suicide lobby group Dignity in Dying, made the first steps in the process to bring in assisted suicide into the U.K., with the House of Lords giving her Assisted Dying Bill its first reading on May 26.
In its first reading, the bill was formally introduced. It will be debated in its second reading, which will most likely take place later this year.
Modeled on legislation from Oregon, under the terms of the bill, assisted suicide would be legalized for “terminally ill, mentally competent adults” who are judged to be in the final six months of their life.
When assisted suicide is requested, two doctors and a High Court judge would be required to assess the case in order to grant approval for a person to end his or her life.
Should the judges approve the death, then a patient would be able to choose the place, time and manner. Meacher’s bill declares that it has the aim of alleviating “intolerable suffering.”
The legislation is the third attempt in the past 10 years to legalize assisted suicide and comes some years after the 2015 Marris-Falconer Assisted Dying Bill which was defeated in the House of Commons by a vote of 330-118.
Assisted suicide is currently illegal in England and Wales under the Suicide Act (1961) and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act (1966). Anyone who “encourages or assists a suicide” could face up to 14 years in prison under the current laws.
While there is no specific legislation relating to assisted suicide in Scotland, the Scottish parliament is expected to launch its own consultation on the matter, with a bill expected to be introduced next year.
Assisted-suicide campaigners have been lobbying the courts since their defeat in Parliament in 2015 but were told by the High Court in 2019 that “In our judgment, the courts are not the venue for arguments that have failed to convince parliament.”
The campaigners have been supported by Secretary of State for Health Matthew Hancock, who recently advocated for a data-based debate on the matter, and wrote to the Office for National Statistics for information on “suicides by terminally ill people and the possible impact of the ban on assisted dying.”
The Sunday Times launched a campaign on May 23 supporting the bid to legalize assisted suicide and attempting to drum up public support for the bill.
Last month, 70 MPs and Peers signed an open letter calling on the government to reject requests by the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, which had lobbied the government to conduct an inquiry with a view to changing the ban on assisted suicide.
“We do not consider that a new inquiry into this complex and emotive subject is warranted,” wrote the parliamentarians.
They pointed to the “slippery slope” of assisted suicide, which led to euthanasia as its “natural destination.” Such laws would replace the current law, which the signatories of the letter say is “a law based on the rational and widely-accepted principle that we do not involve ourselves in deliberately bringing about the deaths of others – with a law based on artificial and arbitrary criteria like a prognosis of terminal illness.”
Meacher’s bill has also been met with stern opposition from pro-life campaigners as well as clerics. Catherine Robinson, a spokesperson for Right to Life UK, warned that in practice any legalization of assisted suicide would lead to the deaths of far more than just those people deemed to be experiencing “intolerable suffering.”
“Supporters of a change in the law on assisted suicide frame the debate in terms of unbearable suffering ‘beyond the reach of palliative care,’ as Baroness Meacher put it. Yet the experience of other jurisdictions, particularly Canada and Oregon, which have legalized assisted suicide and/or euthanasia, tell a very different story,” Robinson said.
“The majority of people who choose to end their own lives with medical assistance say it is because they fear being a ‘burden,’ or ‘loss of autonomy’ or ‘loss of dignity.’ These reasons have nothing to do with physical suffering, and it should be a source of scandal that people who are struggling in this personal, psychological and social manner are offered death as a solution.”
Robinson was echoed by Alithea Williams of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), who noted that though Meacher’s bill was “unlikely” to become law, it was nevertheless part of “a fresh assault on Westminster by the assisted suicide lobby.”
“This bill marks the start of a new battle against the lives of the most vulnerable – we must fight back now,” declared Williams.
Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury Bishop Mark Davies issued a statement in response to Meacher’s bill, pointing out the irony of such a bill after more than a year of restrictions that had the supposed intent of saving lives from an infection.
“If Parliament were ever persuaded to legalize Assisted Suicide, we should be in no doubt as to the moral line that would be crossed,” Davies said.
“A line that has never been legally crossed in our care of the sick and elderly since the foundation of our society. The culture built on the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has protected the most vulnerable, led to the development of the finest end of life care and never required of our medical and nursing professions that they assist in the suicide or the killing of their patients.”
Speaking to LifeSiteNews, Fiona Bruce MP, Co-Chair All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, also noted the heavy price which had been paid during the last year in the name of saving lives, and what a paradox was being proposed by now seeking to legalize assisted suicide:
Perhaps one of the most affected groups are those in our society who are more isolated even in the best of times – the elderly, and those who rely on friends and family being able to regularly pop into their house, to break the silence, to give the physical contact of a hug, and to show them that they are loved and supported. Many people have suffered, and felt their most vulnerable, over the last year. We are now warned that we face a mental health crisis that will not end with restrictions. Surely it would be completely inappropriate - indeed, insensitive - to go anywhere near making access to any form of suicide easier.