October 24, 2021
Terminally Ill Brits are One Step Closer
The Mirror reports that terminally ill Brits are one step closer to obtaining their wish for assistance in dying as a highly-disputed bill has passed its first hurdle in the House of Lords.
The second reading of the Assisted Dying Bill, was unopposed in the Lords, and is set to be scrutinised by a committee.
The bill, tabled by cross-bench peer Baroness Meacher, proposes that only terminally ill patients with full mental capacity, and are not expected to live more than six months would be eligible to apply for an assisted death.
Former MP Frank Field was one of many peers to back a law, as it was announced he is terminally ill.
The 79-year-old represented Birkenhead for Labour for almost 40 years, before forming his own party and losing the seat in the 2019 election.
Peers heard Lord Field – who campaigned against bereavement benefit cuts as chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee – was unable to attend today’s debate, having spent time recently in a hospice.
Cross-bench peer Baroness Meacher, who is leading the Bill, said: “Our colleague Lord Field of Birkenhead, who is dying, asked me to read out a short statement.”
The statement from Lord Field said: “I’ve just spent a period in a hospice and I’m not well enough to participate in today’s debate. If I had been, I would have spoken strongly in favour of the second reading [of the Bill].”
Lord Curry of Kirkharle was one of several peers to draw upon personal experience as he spoke against the Assisted Dying Bill.
The Cross-bench peer explained: “Eight years ago my wife and I held the hands of our daughter, aged 42, who had a learning disability, while she passed from time into eternity.
“She breathed her last while we held her hands, a very emotional and precious moment for us. Not an experience one envisages when bringing a child into the world.
“Six years before that she was very, very ill with pneumonia and other complications, and wasn’t expected to survive.”
Cross-bench peer Lord Krebs offered his support and explained how the death of his father had shaped his thinking.
And heartbroken Tory peer Michael Forsyth admitted he will back the bill after his dying father changed his mind.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, told BBC Radio 4: “Just before he died I went to see him and said ‘I’m so sorry, dad, you’re in this position’, and he completely took me aback by saying ‘well, you’re to blame, because you and others have consistently voted against the right to die, I would like to be relieved of this, they can’t relieve the pain and I am in this position because of folk like you.”
Critics of the Bill could seek to block it at committee stage by tabling several amendments.
Opponents included many religious leaders, who warned that it could leave vulnerable people exposed to unwanted pressure.
The Archbishop, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said that although the safeguards in the legislation were stronger than in previous attempts to change the law, they still did not go far enough.
“What we want is assisted living, not assisted dying. There is no difference between us in compassion.”
It is common for private members’ bills in the Lords to be given a second reading although it still has several stages to clear and will need to fight for time in the parliamentary schedule.
Justice minister Lord Wolfson of Tredegar said the Government was adopting a position of “neutrality” for the Bill, adding it would “not stand in the way” should Parliament ultimately approve the proposed reforms.
He added the Bill is an “issue of conscience” for all parliamentarians.
The topic was debated today in Parliament for the first time in six years.
Previous attempts to introduce similar laws have all been defeated.
Disabled campaigners were expected to protest outside Parliament but it was called off last night over Covid fears.
Dame Prue Leith has backed the bill and slammed critics of “scaremongering” families.
Writing in the Telegraph, she said: “Opponents to the Bill fear that grasping children will coerce dying parents to get their doctors to see them off so they can inherit.
“If someone is going to die within six months anyway, which must be the case to qualify for assistance to die, why would anyone risk prosecution to get the money a few months earlier?”
This is despite her son, Tory MP Danny Kruger campaigning against the change in law.
Mr Kruger set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well.
Mr Johnson is not expected to back the plans and it is unlikely to become law without government support.
Downing Street has said the Government continues to regard the issue of assisted dying as a matter of conscience for individual MPs and peers.
Editor’s Note – the standard of debate on assisted dying/ assisted suicide / euthanasia in the UK is, with due respect, rather immature. The medicalisation of the debate and its narrow field of view (a good death is only for the terminally ill) belies that fact that we are all living longer but sicker lives
Our lower quality of life in our later years should be a wake up call for the need for law reform for all, not just the ‘privileged’ few who are sick enough to qualify.
That said, the House of Commons is not expected to debate the Bill. The issue of end of life choices in the UK is not going anywhere fast. Pity …