Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 4:54 pm on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 4:54 pm, 18th July 2014

My Lords, it has been an amazing day so far. I think that we are about three-quarters of the way through. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, I have had amazing numbers of letters. I have the solid bunch of them all here with me and every single one of them is against the Bill. It is only fair to put that into the balance.

The last time that the House was asked to consider a Bill to legalise what is being called “assisted dying” was shortly after I joined it. The first thing that I did when I saw the Bill tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was to look back at the Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, presented to the House eight years ago. The thing that struck me immediately was the title. The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, presented the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, but this Bill is the Assisted Dying Bill. Is that just an attempt at brevity or is it significant? The noble and learned Lord is insistent that his Bill would not offer assistance with suicide to anyone who was not terminally ill, but I cannot help thinking that, if I were presenting such a Bill and I had in mind that it might subsequently be extended, I might well think that it ought to have the more general title of Assisted Dying Bill rather than the narrow one that the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, used eight years ago. But maybe I am being overly suspicious.

Moving on from the title, I noted that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, set out a procedure for a doctor who supplied lethal drugs to a patient to report doing so. It also contained provisions for a monitoring commission to examine these reports to ensure that the law had been complied with. Yet when I turned to the Bill of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, I saw none of this. There is no requirement for a doctor to report, nor is there an arrangement for ensuring that the terms of the law have been observed. The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, contained a requirement, in line with the Oregon assisted-suicide law, that a doctor who had any doubts about the mental health of a person seeking assisted suicide must refer that patient for specialist examination. Once again, there is nothing like that in the Bill of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.

I raise these issues because those who argue for a law of this nature are insistent about what they call upfront safeguards, but there is nothing upfront or indeed safeguarding here. All that the Bill contains are broad and general statements of whom it is meant to apply to. These are not safeguards. It is not enough to say that having two doctors agreeing on a request is a safeguard. This is quite literally a life-or-death Bill and we need to be able to assess whether it is safe to unleash it on the public.

We are told that all this will be settled later by others and that we should focus on the principles of the Bill. Surely, though, safeguarding the public is itself a central principle of all legislation. To give the green light to a Bill with such far-reaching consequences for the safety of vulnerable people simply on the basis that it sounds fine in principle, without being given even a hint of how those people might be protected, would be nothing short of a dereliction of our duty as legislators.