Assisted Suicide — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:42 pm on 5th March 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Grey-Thompson Baroness Grey-Thompson Crossbench 8:42 pm, 5th March 2014

My Lords, the policy we are debating was subjected to a serious public consultation before being finalised. The CPS website states that nearly 5,000 responses were received and the draft policy was modified.

The early policy listed,

“a terminal illness; a severe and incurable physical disability; or a severe degenerative physical condition from which there was no possibility of recovery”,

as a mitigating factor. I am so relieved that this was removed. This was done because it was considered that it could have the unintended effect of discriminating against people who are seriously ill or disabled by implying that assisting their suicide was of less concern than assisting the suicides of other people, as my noble friend Lady Campbell said. Disabled people face this discrimination every single day of our lives. As a disabled campaigner, I know that we have fought paternalism.

I refer to this change to the draft policy because it illustrates a wider issue. Those who want a change to the law are anxious to reassure us that their demands are limited to people who are terminally ill and that others such as the chronically ill or disabled people should not feel at risk. This argument does not hold up, as Belgium has shown us. It is the designation of one group that causes concern.

The law we have applies equally to all of us, irrespective of age, gender, race or health. The law that we have rests, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has written, on a natural and easily recognisable frontier—the principle that we do not involve ourselves in bringing about the deaths of other people. Once we start redrawing the law arbitrarily around particular groups it becomes just a line in the sand. If it can apply to terminally ill people, why not chronically ill people? If chronically ill people, why not disabled people? Such a law is inherently unstable.

The need for equality of access and equality of protection was clearly recognised by the DPP when the policy was drawn up. We should recognise it if we should be asked, yet again, to consider legalising assisted suicide.