Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Care Not Killing welcomes Lords' decision to reject assisted suicide amendment

Press Release
July 8, 2009

The Care Not Killing Alliance has welcomed the House of Lords decision to reject, by 194 votes to 141, Lord Falconer's amendment (173) to the Coroners and Justice Bill which would have exempted from investigation and prosecution those who help terminally ill people to travel abroad to seek assisted suicide in countries where such actions are legal – in effect, Switzerland.

Care Not Killing Director Dr Peter Saunders said, 'The House of Lords has wisely rejected this amendment. Today we have seen over 30 leaders of disabled people's organisations in an open letter, along with doctors' leaders in a comprehensive clinical briefing joining their voices to those of senior legal figures who last week labeled the amendment “ill-defined, unsound and unnecessary”.'

'The amendment is vaguely worded and unworkable and its safeguards illusory. The phrase “terminally ill” is not further defined and could apply to people with a very wide range of chronic progressive illnesses some with life expectancy stretching to decades. The assessing doctors are not required to know, to see nor to examine the person in question nor even to review the case notes; nor to possess the requisite training, experience and skill necessary to make a sound judgement about prognosis and capacity. The amendment is thereby wide open to manipulation and abuse.'

'Lord Falconer's amendment would have put vulnerable people at risk. At a time of economic recession with imminent health cuts, growing numbers of elderly people, and increasing levels of elder abuse the very last thing we need is to put elderly, sick or disabled people, many of whom already believe they are a financial or emotional burden to relatives, carers and the state, under pressure to end their lives through a change in the law.'

'The current law is clear and right. The Suicide Act 1961 has stood the test of time and gives a blanket prohibition to all assistance with suicide. The penalties the current law holds in reserve give it both a stern face to deter would-be abusers and a kind heart to enable judges to exercise compassion in hard cases. This amendment would have created legal confusion by loosening a law that the government is actually trying to tighten to stop internet suicides. What is not broken does not need fixing'

'Passing the Falconer amendment would have irreparably damaged the law by establishing an exception to the Suicide Act. The next step in the incremental strategy would have been to argue for 'equality' by legalising assisted suicide here. The House of Lords has wisely rejected it.'

Links:
Hansard: http://www.carenotkilling.org.uk/pdf/Hansard_-_Debate_on_Falconer_Amendment.pdf
Article - Disabled Peer Against Assisted Suicide: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/jul/07/disabled-peer-against-assisted-suicide/print
Article - Lords reject amendment to assisted suicide law: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/lords-reject-amended-law-on-assisted-suicide-1736329.html
Article - Assisted dying plea turned down: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1198205/Assisted-dying-plea-turned-Lords-emotional-speech-disabled-peer.html?printingPage=true

Notes for Editors
Care Not Killing is a UK-based alliance bringing together around 50 organisations - human rights and disability rights organisations, health care and palliative care groups, faith-based organisations groups - and thousands of concerned individuals.

We have three key aims:

- to promote more and better palliative care;
- to ensure that existing laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide are not weakened or repealed during the lifetime of the current Parliament;
- to inform public opinion further against any weakening of the law.

We seek to attract the broadest support among health care professionals, allied health services and others opposed to euthanasia by campaigning on the basis of powerful arguments underpinned by the latest, well-researched and credible evidence.

Key groups signed up to Care Not Killing include: The Association for Palliative Medicine, the United Kingdom Disabled People's Council, RADAR, the Christian Medical Fellowship, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, the Church of England and the Medical Ethics Alliance.

For more information, broadcasting bids and media inquiries:
Media Intelligence Partners
Alistair Thompson - 07970 162225 or 0203 008 8145

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