Assisted Suicide — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:48 pm on 5th March 2014.

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Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Labour 8:48 pm, 5th March 2014

My Lords, however much we compliment the DPP on his guidelines, we have in effect put him in the role of an inquiring magistrate, as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, made absolutely clear in his elegant address.

Unsurprisingly, the CPS has shown little appetite for bringing forward prosecutions of relatives and friends who assist someone to end their life. There has been only one successful prosecution for attempted assisted suicide since the new guidelines came into effect. However, the threat of prosecution still hangs over everybody, so Parliament now needs to respond to this very uncertain situation and provide an opportunity to consider the Bill of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer—and, I hope, pass it. We now have groups of disabled people, health professionals and Christians calling for change—groups that, in the past, were portrayed as opposed to assisted dying.

In effect, we have seen that this issue is no longer a matter for the chattering classes; it has penetrated the soaps and it has engaged the red tops in consulting their readers about change in this area. Parliament needs to wake up and smell the coffee. It should stop listening to the noisy minority of opponents and start listening to the majority of our fellow citizens who want to see a change in the law in this area. The cruelty of making terminally ill people prolong their lives when they wish not to and then threatening to prosecute their relatives who help them to secure the peaceful end they seek is increasingly seen for what it is: barbaric.

The long-standing opponents of change need to see their opposition for what it is: a denial of personal choice to a small minority of people who wish to control their exit from the world. I gently suggest to them that they are on the wrong side of history on this issue and that they risk ending up like the opponents of abortion, of the abolition of hanging and of gay marriage in a kind of “Jurassic Park” civil society.