British House of Lords Defeats Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 12, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British House of Lords Defeats Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
May 12, 2006

London, England ( — The British House of Lords voted 148-100 against a measure that would have legalized assisted suicide in the European nation. The vote is a huge victory for pro-life advocates, disability groups and doctors who campaigned together to stop the bill from becoming law.

Introduced by Lord Joffe, the bill would have allowed physicians to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients with less than six months to live. It would have had Britain join the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland as well as the state of Oregon in legalizing the grisly practice.

The vote came after an intense debate and the measure is now dead unless Lord Joffe asks for more time for debate, which is considered unlikely.

Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile, who opposed the bill, told other lawmakers that the measure was "morally indefensible" saying that it would inevitably lead to "voluntary euthanasia" where doctors would take a more active role in actually killing the patient.

“Despite protestations to the contrary, everybody in your Lordships’ house knows that those who are moving this bill have the clear intention of it leading to voluntary euthanasia," he said. "That has always been the aim and it remains the aim now.”

Peter Saunders, director of the Care Not Killing campaign group that included various organizations, agreed and said before the vote, "We believe that this is a very bad bill and one that would create great problems for old and sick patients and the medical and nursing professions."

Not Dead Yet, a disability rights group, called Joffe’s bill "damaging and dangerous to terminally ill and disabled people. We oppose this Bill because it singles out terminally ill and disabled people for legalised killing, based on our medical condition or prognosis."

Some last minute votes may have been swayed after the Royal College of Physicians found 76 percent of its members opposed assisted suicide. After the strong sentiment expressed in the poll, the group changed its stance on the bill from neutral to opposing the legislation.

Disability groups, which also opposed the bill, published a poll in the London Sunday Telegraph showing 65 percent of British residents agreed that the bill’s passage could coercive patients into thinking they should kill themselves.

Religious groups were also a part of the coalition of organizations opposed to the legislation.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, wrote letters to members of the House of Lords condemning the legislation.

"Such a bill cannot guarantee that a right to die would not, for society’s most vulnerable, become a duty to die," they wrote.

Together the groups presented petitions of more than 100,000 British residents to Prime Minister Tony Blair urging opposition to the bill.