British Assisted Suicide Bill Gets Positive Changes, Will be Tabled

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 8, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Assisted Suicide Bill Gets Positive Changes, Will be Tabled Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 8, 2005

London, England ( — British doctors have won an agreement to include an opt-out clause in legislation in the House of Lords that would legalize assisted suicide. The changes make the bill less onerous, but pro-life advocates are happy that it will be tabled for a fourth time.

Under the provision, doctors opposed to helping terminally ill patients end their lives would be allowed to refuse to do so.

Euthanasia campaigner Lord Joffe says he will issue a revised version of his assisted suicide bill that includes the "conscientious objector" clause for physicians.

Joffe will also drop voluntary euthanasia from the bill after a committee made a recommendation to do so.

Doctors groups brought up the need for the op-out clause because of concerns they would be forced to bring up assisted suicide as an option for terminally ill patients. They didn’t want to encourage patients to take their own lives as a possible option for dealing with their condition.

According to The Guardian newspaper, the bill now says "no person shall be under any duty to raise the option of assisted dying with a patient."

"It has always been for the patient to ask for assisted dying but what we are making clear is that it is not necessary for a doctor to raise assisted dying with a patient if he or she does not want to do so," Lord Joffe told the British newspaper.

The bill also drops the requirement that doctors refer a patient requesting information about assisted suicide to another doctor who doesn’t have reservations about the grisly practice.

"Before, if a doctor had a conscientious objection he had to refer the patient to another doctor. They felt they were being asked to participate," Joffe told The Guardian about the dropped provision.

The opt-out provisions cover all medical professionals as well, including doctors, nurses, and others who may provide a patient with medical care.

Despite the changes, which may draw new supporters for the bill, Joffe plans to table it a fourth time because he doesn’t have enough votes to pass it. Still, he thinks the mood in the British parliament is moving in favor of the bill.

The government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair is neutral on the bill and most legislation doesn’t make it through Parliament without government support.