Assisted dying bill must not stall in Lords urges former Lord Chancellor
Lord Falconer of Thoroton calls on supporters to vote down any attempt to pass wrecking amendment on sensitive issue.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former lord chancellor, has voiced fears that opponents of assisted dying will attempt to destroy his bill on the issue by tabling a wrecking amendment in the House of Lords on Friday.
As Desmond Tutu became the second retired Anglican archbishop to support the right of terminally ill people to end their lives, Falconer warned of the “absolutely awful” prospect of ending his bill through a procedural mechanism.
He told the Guardian: “I fear that somebody may put a wrecking amendment down. The way you kill it is you put a motion down referring it to a select committee not a bill committee. That finishes it off for that session. I am urging all of my supporters to come on Friday to vote down such a motion.”
Falconer spoke out after the Church of England called for the highly sensitive issue of assisted dying to be referred to a royal commission. The proposal, described as “kicking the issue into the long grass” by some campaigners, came after the former archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said it was not “anti-Christian” to believe that terminally ill people should be allowed to die with dignity.
Carey’s views were supported by Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town, who said he wanted to focus on “dignity for the dying”. In anObserver article, Tutu wrote: “I revere the sanctity of life – but not at any cost.”
Falconer said of the interventions over the weekend: “I thought [Carey’s intervention, in an article for the Daily Mail] was profoundly significant. It seemed to me to express views held by very many committed Anglicans. It provided real leadership for the alternative view. He made absolutely clear that there is no Christian reason to oppose assisted suicide. I respect the views of those who oppose. The significance of the Carey and the Tutu interventions is that there is nothing anti-Christian about supporting assisted dying.”
Falconer’s assisted dying legislation would allow doctors in England and Wales to administer a lethal dose of drugs to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live who can make an informed choice. Two doctors would have to assess the patient’s condition.
Falconer said he feared that his opponents would follow the example of peers who ended a similar bill, introduced in 2004 by the Labour peer Lord Joffe, by tabling a wrecking amendment. But he said important steps had been taken in the last decade.
A committee chaired by the former Tory lord chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern has considered the matter, and the supreme court recentlyinvited parliament to consider the matter. The court upheld the ban on doctors helping patients end their lives, but Lord Neuberger, the supreme court president, said the law was incompatible with the European convention on human rights. He said parliament would have the opportunity in the form of the Falconer bill to “cure that incompatibility”.
Falconer said: “We should proceed with the bill on Friday. We should move from the second reading to the next stages. The matter has been considered by select committees and commissions over a long period of time. I don’t think the issue really is now ‘do we have the facts?’. It is that difficult political judgment that needs to be made. That really is the role for parliament.
“Parliament has got the material on which to make the judgment. We have done the work in the past. The Joffe bill in 2006 was after the select committee. It would be absolutely awful if [a wrecking amendment were tabled] because the supreme court, those engaged in this issue and the wider public do expect the Lords at least to debate the issue properly and then provide the opportunity for the Commons who must decide – they are the elected representatives – whether they want such a bill.”
- The Guardian,