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Assisted Dying - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:14 pm on 6th March 2017.

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Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench 8:14 pm, 6th March 2017

My Lords, there are two questions before your Lordships’ House this evening. The first is whether this House, this Parliament, wants to revisit the issue of the creation of law enabling assisted suicide in this country and the second is that posed by the noble Baroness in her Question. This House and the other place have answered the first question repeatedly in the negative.

Five of the 50 American states permit assisted suicide. Your Lordships have heard tonight of the terrible consequences of the situation in Oregon, and the other four have adopted laws only relatively recently, so there is no information on how they are working.

Analysis of the Canadian Medical Assistance in Dying Act shows that the legislation is perceived by many as fundamentally flawed because of its lack of definition and because of the uncertainty which it has created. It talks about,

“grievous and irremediable medical conditions”,

and about “serious illness”, but these basic terms give rise to widespread uncertainty and fear. There is no definition of what constitutes a relevant condition. “Grievous” and “irremediable” are not medical terms. What is an “irreversible decline in capability”? How is to be defined? What of those suffering from mental illness? Can they make a decision? Are they capable? Are they suffering from such a decline? When is natural death “reasonably foreseeable”? There are no time limits and no proper definitions. Medical professionals are invoking their right to freedom of conscience under the law.

To legislate for assisted dying is to cross a line in the sand, making medical practitioners trained at the most fundamental levels to do no harm into dispensers of medicine which does not cure but kills. North America has little to teach us.