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Second Reading of Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill

On 6th June, Lord Joffe’s Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill was, in keeping with tradition, given an unopposed second reading by members of the House of Lords.

The Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill proposes to: “Enable a competent person who is suffering unbearably as a result of a terminal or a serious and progressive physical illness to receive medical help to die at his own considered and persistent request; and to make provision for a person suffering from such a condition to receive pain relief medication.” If instated, the Bill will enable physicians to assist a qualifying patient to die without fear of prosecution, subject to provisions of the Act.

More than 50 peers spoke in the debate, which lasted more than seven hours and transcended party lines. Concluding the debate, Lord Joffe acknowledged opinion was clearly divided. However, several prominent peers supported it or urged a new review of the law, including Baroness Jay of Paddington, Baroness Flather, Baroness Warnock, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, Baroness Greengross and Lord Alexander of Weedon.

Baroness Jay (the former Leader of the Lords), Baroness Warnock (a crossbencher and expert on medical ethics) and Baroness Flather all sat on the 1993 House of Lords Medical Ethics Select Committee which recommended against legalising euthanasia. They said they had changed their opinion because of developments in medical care and the successful assisted dying laws in the Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon.

Baroness Jay, Baroness Flather and Baroness Warnock’s change of opinion is significant as it demonstrates that the government’s refusal to legalise assisted suicide (which is based on the 1993 select committee’s report) is ten years out of date. This report is often quoted by opponents throughout Europe as a reason against legalising voluntary euthanasia.

As is customary in the House of Lords, the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill was given an unopposed second reading. It will now proceed to its Committee stage, and then to the Report stage. If the Bill is successful at the Third Reading, it will be taken up by a Member of the House of Commons, and treated as any other private Member’s Bill.

To read in full the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill go here .

To read in full the debate on the 6th June go here

To read the media coverage of the debate see:
Saturday’s Guardian editorial
Friday’s Guardian articles [1] [2]
The Independent (Saturday)
The Telegraph