“A 2015 Populus poll found that 86% of people with a disability support the Assisted Dying Bill.  This is a 6% increase on a similar YouGov poll of disabled people conducted in 2013.”
A change in the law on assisted dying would not lead to more deaths, rather it would lead to less suffering for those dying people who want the choice to control how and when they die. This change is reflected in Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill which was tabled in the House of Lords in June 2014.
Second Reading – the first time the Bill was debated
The Bill received its Second Reading on Friday 18 July 2014. During a debate lasting over nine hours the Bill was debated in detail but not voted on, as no wrecking amendment was tabled, meaning law change moved one step closer as the Bill progressed to the committee stage.
Committee Stage – the whole house debates the Bill clause by clause
The Bill had its first day of Committee Stage on Friday 7 November 2014. This was an important step forward because the House of Lords accepted the principle of law-change and voted in unanimous support for an amendment to the Bill, put down by Lord Pannick, which set out a model for judicial oversight of assisted dying. This requires a judge in the family division of the High Court to confirm that a terminally ill patient, with less than six months to live, has reached “a voluntary, clear, settled and informed” decision to control the time and manner of their death. This amendment was preferred to a more onerous model of judicial oversight, which would have required a judge to reach a decision on whether a patient’s request was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights
At its second day of consideration in Committee, on January 16th 2015, the Bill progressed further than ever before, and a majority of Peers defeated amendments that sought to change the Bill for the worse.
Sadly, and due in no small part to a concerted effort from opponents to slow the Bill’s progress, the Bill will not be further debated before dissolution and will not become law in this Parliament.
We will continue to campaign for assisted dying after the election, in a new Parliament but with the same challenges ahead of us. The message is clear from our own Supreme Court that this issue must be dealt with by Parliament, and the recent judgment from the Canadian Supreme Court shows that without legislative action, our judiciary could strike down our own uncompassionate laws.
Summary of the Assisted Dying Bill
The Assisted Dying Bill is a specific, focused piece of legislation based on a recognition – repeatedly expressed by the courts – that the issue is one for Parliament to address. A change in the law that every opinion poll has shown is supported by an overwhelming majority of the public.
If enacted it would:
- Result in fewer dying adults – and their families – facing unnecessary suffering at the end of their lives, subject to strict upfront safeguards, as assessed by two doctors.
- Bring clarity to an area of the law that is currently opaque and thereby provide safety and security for the terminally ill and for medical professionals.
- Neither legalise voluntary euthanasia, where a doctor directly administers life-ending medication nor act as a slippery slope to do so.
- Protects anyone who doesn’t have a terminal illness, including elderly and disabled people, by not in any way affecting the law that makes it a criminal offence to assist ending their lives.
- Above all it will give dying adults peace of mind that the choice of assisted dying is available if their suffering becomes too great for them in their final months of life.
Without a change in the law, terminally ill patients will continue to take decisions without adequate safeguards, whether by travelling to Dignitas to die, ending their lives themselves or being illegally helped to die by doctors.
Impact of the Assisted Dying Bill
The Bill draws on the experience of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. This law has been in force for 17 years and has enabled a small number of people who were terminally ill to request the choice of an assisted death. In practice only a very small number of patients have an assisted death – less than 80 in total in 2013 out of the annual 30,000 deaths in Oregon. There has been no evidence of abuse since its inception.
The Assisted Dying Bill would:
- Provide safeguarded choice and control to terminally ill adults and prevent prolonged suffering among these dying adults who want to have choice over how and when they die.
- Ensure that terminally ill adults who have assistance to die do so having met clear pre-determined criteria and have explored all their alternatives; rather than as at present, in secret, when checks are only made after someone dies (as set out in the prosecuting policy on assisted suicide).
The Assisted Dying Bill would not:
- Legalise assisted suicide for people who are not dying (for example disabled people or older people).
- Legalise voluntary euthanasia where a doctor administers the life-ending medication. Under the Assisted Dying Bill the person choosing an assistance to die would self-administer the prescribed life-ending medication.
- Legalise a system where the person being directly helped to die is no longer competent to make that choice for themselves. This Assisted Dying Bill would only apply to adults with mental capacity both at the time of their request and at the time of their death.