Anti-assisted suicide campaigners in the UK are gathering outside the Houses of Parliament today where a debate is taking place on a piece of legislation that would erode the rights of disabled people and those living with some form of dependency.
Assisted suicide remains illegal in the UK but the current Bill, known as the Marris Bill as it was introduced by Rob Marris, would allow people who have six months or less to end their lives. The Bill provides that only those who are terminally ill would be allowed to avail of the new law which provides that the patient can administer a lethal dose of drugs. They would have to be able to administer the drugs themselves, and two doctors and a High Court judge would have to approve the request.
Those who support the Bill say that the safeguards are sufficient because the Bill would not be applicable to those with non-terminal illnesses or dementia and doctors would be free to refuse to become involved.
But as the debate continues today, pro-life campaigners like the MP Fiona Bruce have made the point that there are no safeguards contained in the Bill that would provide any comfort to those who have the best interests of the most vulnerable in society at heart.
Other Members of Parliament have pointed to the very real phenomenon of a “duty to die”, namely that the right to die becomes a duty to die and those who feel they are a burden on their families or those who care for them may come to feel that they should start thinking about assisted suicide as a real option. This has certainly given huge cause for concern in other countries where euthanasia has taken a foothold.
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The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has made it clear that he does not support changes to the current law. He has also pointed out that he does not want the law to move any closer to euthanasia. This lack of support is likely to be a major stumbling block for those who want to see the Marris Bill become law, but it remains a concern that the Bill has reached the debate stage in the House of Parliament.
As with all such attempts however, there are reasons to be grateful. There has been a huge outpouring of support for those who oppose assisted suicide in the last few days as they prepared to descend on the Houses of Parliament to show their opposition to the Bill. Discussions of assisted suicide provide an opportunity too for society to focus their efforts on the needs of those who care for disabled people and those coping with terminal illnesses.
Groups like “Care Not Killing” have been using the publicity generated by this debate to educate the British public about the need to be aware of the effects of introducing assisted suicide in other countries. Similarly, the new Irish group HOPE Ireland has been working to spread awareness of the need to defeat this Bill and to ensure the disabled people in every society receive the support and help they need without feeling pressured to end their own lives.
The debate continues and a vote will take place later on today.