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Brits restart the assisted suicide debate

House of Lords to debate legalization of the practice

The House of Lords in London Associated Press/Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth (file)

Brits restart the assisted suicide debate

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords are preparing to debate assisted suicide legislation for the first time in more than five years. In a standard procedure on May 13, the upper house randomly selected 25 private members’ bills (legislation not sponsored by the executive branch). A bill to legalize assisted suicide ended up in the top seven, making it likely to receive at least one day of debate in the House of Lords. Supporters say the legislation contains sufficient safeguards to protect against abuse, but lawmakers and activist groups opposing the bill point to the assisted suicide laws of other countries as reminders of how even carefully worded legislation gives way to a culture of death.

According to the Dignity in Dying website, the authors of the assisted suicide bill based it on similar legislation another member of Parliament presented in 2014. It also resembles legislation passed in Australia, New Zealand, and some parts of the United States including Oregon. In a recent article at The House, a publication written primarily by parliamentarians, the bill’s sponsor and chair of the Campaign for Dignity in Dying Baroness Molly Meacher pointed to those countries’ assisted suicide laws as examples of what she hopes to achieve in the United Kingdom: She argues they reassure terminally ill people they can end their lives early if their suffering becomes too severe.

“We know for dying people in those countries, this is effectively an insurance policy that allows them to lead happier lives,” she wrote. “I have tabled a Private Member’s Bill to legalise assisted dying because … I want all of us to have that insurance policy and some control at the end of our lives.” She praised the bill’s “robust safeguards,” including certification from two doctors to show the patient’s condition is terminal, that he or she isn’t facing pressure to die, and that the patient is mentally sound enough to make the decision.

But opponents see warning signs in countries with similar laws. “We are told the numbers would be small, yet other legislatures have shown such deaths increase year on year, often with the law’s boundaries becoming ever slacker, rising rates of suicides and yet their palliative care remains patchy and inadequate,” wrote Baroness Ilora Finlay, a member of the House of Lords, a doctor, and professor of palliative medicine. “As observed previously—such legislation would change the moral landscape.”

The bill’s first reading is scheduled for Wednesday. In the meantime, opponents of assisted suicide are speaking against pressures to change the law. Members of Parliament and peers expressed their concerns in an open letter to the lord chancellor at the end of April. Around the same time, in response to pressure from some pro-assisted suicide groups, Health Secretary Matt Hancock asked the U.K. Office of National Statistics for additional data on the country’s suicide rates and how the country’s ban on assisted suicide could affect them. Hancock told some members of Parliament he intended the statistics to refuel a debate on the practice.

U.K. activist groups seem skeptical Meacher’s bill will pass both the House of Lords and the House of Commons, but it could pressure the government to pass similar legislation in the future.

Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for World News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.



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