Legal ban on assisted suicides to face review

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Legal, doctor-assisted suicide in Britain moved a step closer after a parliamentary committee overturned a decade-long policy that there should be no change in the law.

Legal, doctor-assisted suicide in Britain moved a step closer after a parliamentary committee overturned a decade-long policy that there should be no change in the law.

A "substantial majority" supports the concept of allowing terminally ill patients to kill themselves, a report by a House of Lords special select committee concluded yesterday. Parliament should debate the issue in the next session and any proposed new law should be fully scrutinised. Although the 12 peers stopped short of recommending that the law be overhauled, their conclusions were a significant shift from a 1994 report saying it would be impossible to legalise euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Assisted suicide involves patients administering a fatal dose of drugs to themselves; euthanasia means a doctor will actively end someone else's life. Campaigners said the report opened the door for legislation that would allow doctors to help terminally ill patients to kill themselves. But opponents of "right-to-die" policies called the report "regrettable" and said relaxing the law would leave vulnerable patients at risk.

The committee had spent more than a year looking at whether a Bill put forward by the crossbench peer Lord Joffe, which would legalise assisted dying and limited euthanasia, should be allowed to proceed.

The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill (ADTI) Bill would mean a terminally ill adult who had months to live and who was judged mentally competent, would be able to request the right to die. Two doctors would have to agree the patient was dying and in "unbearable" pain and all options about palliative care would be discussed first. Fourteen days would have to elapse between a patient making a request and being allowed to die, a declaration would have to be signed and witnessed by at least one solicitor and a monitoring commission would scrutinise all such incidents.

The ADTI Bill has run out of parliamentary time and has no chance of becoming law, but the report merely questions the adequacy of the safeguards rather than dismissing the entire Bill. Recommendations for a future Bill include a psychiatric assessment as well as examination by two doctors, and "unbearable" suffering should be "unrelievable" suffering.

The peers went to Oregon, which has a law similar to the Joffe Bill. There, 180 people have been helped to kill themselves since it was introduced six years ago. Take-up of assisted suicide among the terminally ill in Oregon is .14 per cent; a similar proportion in Britain would be 650 suicides a year. Euthanasia and assisted dying are allowed in the Netherlands and Belgium has legal euthanasia.An MP could bring forward a private member's Bill on assisted dying in the next parliament, to get a law on the statute book.

The Christian Medical Fellowship and the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship said: "We regret the Lords select committee did not have the wisdom and courage unequivocally to reject euthanasia in the face of a strong and emotive campaign from factions seeking a change in the law. Nobody has a 'right' to be killed by a doctor. Britain does not need euthanasia, and no society could control it."

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