English assisted suicide bill not put to vote in House of Lords

English assisted suicide bill not put to vote in House of Lords Anti-euthanasia protesters demonstrate outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Photo: CNS.

After seven hours of debate and prominent opposition in the House of Lords on Friday, the sponsor of a bill that would legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales chose not to take the bill to a vote. More than 60 peers spoke against the bill during the debate.

One of the foremost objectors to the bill in the House of Lords, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that, “No amount of regulation can make a relative kinder or a doctor infallible; No amount of reassurance can make a vulnerable or disabled person feel equally safe, equally valued if the law is changed in this way.

“It does not serve compassion if, by granting the wishes of one closest to me, I expose others to danger; It does not serve dignity if, by granting the wishes of one closest to me, I devalue the status and safety of others,” Archbishop Welby continued.

Another objector, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton and founder of Not Dead Yet UK, commented that the bill “would alter society’s view of those in vulnerable circumstances by signalling that assisted suicide is something that they might or ought to consider.

“Disabled people with terminal conditions or progressive conditions like mine are alarmed by the misleading narrative of autonomy and choice,” she said, and “We must not abandon those who can benefit from high-quality health and social care to the desperate temptation of assisted suicide in the guise of a compassionate choice.”

She has also said that were the bill approved, it “would run counter to our duty to protect those in the most vulnerable situations, and would exacerbate their fears, through insidious pressure, of being regarded as an expendable burden. As has happened elsewhere, the bill would doubtless be extended.”

Continuing her statement, she also warned that “no major disability rights group in the UK supports legalising assisted suicide. What they support is immediate and sustained improvement in their care. Now is not the time to abandon them to the desperate temptation of an assisted suicide under the guise of compassion.”

Multiple prominent, public demonstrations of opposition to the bill occurred ahead of its second reading and Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, along with Justin Welby, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, recently wrote a joint letter to peers “to express our profound disquiet at the provisions of the ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill currently in the House of Lords”.

Assisted suicide is illegal in England and Wales, and doctors who assist a suicide can be jailed up to 14 years under the Suicide Act 1961. In 2015 the British parliament rejected a bill that would have legalised assisted suicide for patients with a terminal diagnosis, by a vote of 330 to 118. Parliament has consistently rejected efforts to change the law.