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Mental Capacity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 25th January 2005.

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Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Labour 2:30 pm, 25th January 2005

I had the privilege of chairing the Joint Select Committee on the draft Mental Incapacity Bill, and I was pleased that the Government accepted the great majority of our recommendations and the recommendation to change the title to the Mental Capacity Bill.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the recommendation that we made regarding euthanasia. We stated:

"Many of the fears which have been raised with us about possible connections between the draft Bill and euthanasia appear to be misplaced. Nevertheless, in acknowledgement of the strength of feeling that clearly exists on this issue and in the hope that such misplaced fears do not detract attention from the many worthwhile aspects of the draft Bill, we recommend that additional assurance should be offered by the inclusion of a paragraph in the Statement of Principles we have recommended, or by an additional clause in the Bill, to make clear that nothing in the Bill permits euthanasia or alters the law relating to it".

I was delighted that the Government did that, and I remind the Committee that Clause 58 states:

"For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that nothing in this Act is to be taken to affect the law relating to murder or manslaughter or the operation of section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 (c. 60) (assisting suicide)".

This is the matter that I find hardest to grasp in this argument, and I would be delighted to hear from my noble friend Lord Brennan when he winds up, and from my noble friend the Minister. Section 1 of the Suicide Act 1961 clearly states:

"The rule of law whereby it is a crime for a person to commit suicide, is hereby abrogated".

That is the first time in a long time that I have seen the word "abrogated" in a statute. It is clear that to attempt or to commit suicide is not an offence under law. But the crucial section is Section 2. It states:

"A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or attempt by another to commit suicide shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years".

It refers to a person who "aids" any attempt to commit suicide. Does "aid" include both the commission and the omission? That is the question on which this matter will turn—whether that section of the Suicide Act 1961 will cover the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Brennan.

He referred to the "wholly irrational" decision. Does he regard an expression of advance decision expressly to assist suicide as "wholly irrational"?