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Lord Joffe: Why the Assisted Dying Bill should be debated fully in Committee

A guest post by Dignity in Dying Patron, Lord Joel Joffe

Between 2002 and 2006 I sought to change the law. My Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill received a Second Reading in June 2003 but then ran out of time. Subsequently my 2004 Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill received a Second Reading in March 2004, and was then committed to a Select Committee.

The unanimous recommendation in the Committee’s Report in March 2006 was:

In the event that another Bill of this nature should be introduced into Parliament, it should, following a formal Second Reading, be sent to a Committee of the whole House for examination

Sadly, this was not to be the case. At short notice, and despite the support of a majority of the members of the Select Committee, my 2006 Bill that followed was brought down by a wrecking amendment at Second Reading in May 2006.

Oregon data

Since then public support (80%) for terminally ill people suffering against their wishes at the end of life has become overwhelming in the United Kingdom. Assistance to die has effectively been outsourced to the Swiss for those that can afford it and can make the journey. Additionally, under the Director of Public Prosecution’s Guidelines loved ones who personally are willing to provide amateur assistance to die will not be prosecuted.

The evidence from Oregon in the United States, where assisted dying has been lawful for 17 years, shows that a law with upfront safeguards to determine prognosis, competence and that the patient is making a clear, voluntary and settled decision is preferable to our status quo and that the safeguards proposed would protect vulnerable members of society. Over all these years there has not been a single prosecution for abuse of the law and the level of assisted dying deaths is only 0.22% of total deaths.

In the light of the Supreme Court last week putting Parliament on notice to resolve this issue, and with opinion polls showing a clear majority of the public in support of a change in the law, I believe Parliament has a responsibility to address a change in the law in detail. Naturally I recognise that there are Peers who have pragmatic or faith concerns about a change in the law but we owe it those who have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of our law to consider whether we can create a better way forward.

I believe Lord Falconer’s Bill would achieve that.