Report on the debate on the Assisted Dying for the terminally ill Bill [HL],

May 12

In a remarkable debate of seven hours, in which 90 peers took part, and in which many fine speeches were made on both sides, an amendment which effectively ended the Bill was passed by a vote of 148 to 100. This was the first votetaken in three debates on related Bills brought by Lord Joel Joffe. He has indicated that he will try again, but the issue has now been so very thoroughly debated and their Lordships would be understandably reluctant to have to consider it again in the foreseeable future.

By now it is evident that there is substantial opposition to his proposals, a point that will not have been lost on the managers of Government time. Furthermore, the accompanying publicity for medically assisted suicide in certain individual cases, which understandably gave rise to public sympathy, has been countered by the debate which emphasised the alternative of good palliative care and the danger to vulnerable people of assisted suicide. During the debate the coming together of Anglican bishops and peers with disabilities, was significant. Many of their Lordships, in many fine and often highly personal speeches, reflected the importance of respecting and supporting life to its natural end. . Much was also made of the resistance to the Bill by doctors. During the run up to the debate a number of medical colleges had come out against the Bill, notably the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Their opposition will now be fixed for some time but for their part, the proponents of the Bill, placed their emphasis on compassion and personal choice.

In the debate it was asked why Lord Joffe had delayed his Bill's Second Reading so that there was insufficient time for it to complete its Lords stages? It was suggested that this was to provide the proponents of euthanasia with a debating platform. In the event, there was a great deal of reporting in the print media countering their arguments, and as a result the public now have a better awareness of the issues. There were also procedural augments over whether it was proper to hold a vote at all.. A letter which Lord Joffe had mislaid from the appropriate parliamentary authority, was however quoted by the mover of the amendment, Lord Carlile, which justified the division. Lord Mackay, chairman of the Select Committee on Lord Joffe`s earlier Bill, criticised him for ignoring some of the committee`s recommendations.