Assisted Suicide — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:27 pm on 5th March 2014.

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Photo of The Bishop of Bristol The Bishop of Bristol Bishop 8:27 pm, 5th March 2014

My Lords, I add my own voice of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, for introducing the debate tonight. The DPP’s guidelines rightly give a central place to compassion in this vexed area. After more than 150 cases have been actively inspected by the DPP, it should now be clear to all that where a suffering patient wishes freely and without coercion to end their life, their family or friends who, motivated wholly by compassion, assist him or her to do so will not be prosecuted. There are many reasons for not moving beyond that legal position as some other countries have, but I shall refer to just one.

The fear is that the current delicate balance established by the DPP’s guidelines and her continuing inspection of each case, together with a number of important legal judgments, would be damaged by further legislation. Such legislation will need to make some very complicated legal definitions and, going forward, it is difficult not to imagine situations in which there will be slippage from the original intention of the legislation.

Of course, supporters of legislation frequently argue that such legislation need not result in such slippage. However, recent evidence from Belgium is hardly encouraging. The very liberal 2002 law there had three grounds for adults. They should be competent and conscious, repeatedly make the request and be suffering unbearably—physically or mentally—as a result of a serious and incurable disorder. Now the Belgian Senate is extending this to children who are terminally ill and in pain, with no age limit set. The 2012 figure showed a 25% increase in euthanasia cases. Euthanasia is increasingly offered to adults with psychological problems, and there have recently been two cases—one involving a person who was depressed after a failed gender change operation being given euthanasia—which promoted much debate in Belgium. It would be a serious mistake to move away from the DPP’s guidelines and move towards the legal position in Belgium or even Oregon.