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Assisted suicide

spring 2015

From triple helix - spring 2015 - Assisted suicide [p04]

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Continuing threats

Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill (1) sought to legalise assisted suicide (but not euthanasia) formentally competent adults (aged over 18) with less than six months to live, subject to 'safeguards' under a two doctors' signature model similar to the Abortion Act 1967.

The bill had an unopposed second reading in the House of Lords on 18 July 2014 (2) and Committee stage debates took place on 7 November 2014 and 16 January 2015. Over 175 amendments were tabled and three votes held. Lord Pannick's amendment (to delegate the final decision in any specific case to the courts) was 'accepted' and attempts to change the bill's wording throughout from 'assisted dying' to 'assisted suicide' and to require two doctors to carry out examinations were defeated by 179–106 and 119–61 respectively.

The bill has now fallen with the approach of the general election on 7 May and will not enter the House of Commons in this parliament. However it is expected to be reintroduced, possibly in the Commons, later this year. Its progress then will depend very much on the post-election composition of parliament. It is clear that the mood of the House of Lords is now sympathetic to Falconer but the lower house is another matter altogether. Both Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg remain opposed to it although Labour leader Ed Miliband is neutral.

There are excellent reviews of the debate and analyses of the deficiencies of the billon the Care Not Killing website. (3)

Patrick Harvie's Assisted Suicide (Scotland)Bill, (4) however, remains very much alive in the Scottish Parliament. The MSP took over the bill following the death of Margo Macdonald MSP in April 2014. It proposes an 'Oregon type system' with trained 'licensed facilitators'but with a wide scope for mentally competent adults (>16) with a 'terminal or life-shortening illness' or a 'progressive and terminal or lifeshortening condition' who have concluded that the 'quality of their life is unacceptable'.

The bill has even more holes than Falconer's, including relativistic definitions, poor reporting provisions,minimal penalties, a 'savings' clause protecting doctors acting in 'good faith',no specification of 'means' of suicide and the absence of a conscience clause.

Oral evidence sessions took place in January and February this year and a firs tstage debate considering the general principles of the bill must take place in the Scottish Parliament before 8 May. Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has already signalled that she will not support the bill (5) and over 10,000 Scottish people have signed a petition against it. (6)

The voices of Scottish Christian doctors will be crucial in the lead up to this first stage debate, where we hope the bill will be soundly defeated. We need to speak out for those voiceless vulnerable people who will be exploited and abused by this ill-conceived draft legislation. (7)


1. Assisted Dying Bill [HL] 2014-15. UK Parliament
2. Falconer Bill in committee. Care Not Killing, 17 November 2014
4. Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill. Scottish Parliament
5. First Minister rejects AS Bill. Care Not Killing, 6 March 2015
6. 10,000 sign Scottish petition. Care Not Killing, 27 February 2015
7. Proverbs 31:8-9

Article written by Peter Saunders

More from triple helix: spring 2015

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  • Assisted suicide
  • The spectre of excess males
  • Freedom of conscience
  • Three-parent embryos
  • Hope in dark places
  • Malawi revisited
  • Becoming the leader you need to be
  • Leadership as Christian service
  • Leadership in hard times
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  • The demographic time bomb (that probably isn't)
  • Respect, trust and consent
  • Philosophy grows no cabbages
  • Face the Future
  • Flourishing
  • Sharing the journey
  • Eutychus
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