Lib Dem Conference: Lib Dems back calls for inquiry into legalising euthanasia

Liberal Democrats are to call for a Royal Commission inquiry on voluntary euthanasia after an impassioned debate at their conference in Eastbourne yesterday. Fran Abrams listened to the arguments.
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Sir Ludovic Kennedy, the broadcaster and human rights campaigner, led the arguments for patients to be allowed to decide when to end their lives and made the call for a commission.

However, a large number of representatives who wanted to maintain the status quo said that such an inquiry would be bound to tie doctors' hands.

Sir Ludovic, president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, told delegates that public opinion had swung in favour of a change in the law in recent years. In 1969, 50 per cent of people approved of voluntary euthanasia, but the figure had grown to 82 per cent today.

Against, though, was the Pope, "who said in 1980 that suffering in the last stage of life is part of God's saving plan for humanity; a view which I find medieval in its thinking and cruel in its lack of compassion", Sir Ludovic said.

Tim Pascall, from the Liberal Democrats' Luxembourg and Belgium branch, who said he had been HIV-positive for 13 years and had escaped illness only through "a defective gene", said he had seen most of his friends die. Some had been in distress but others in the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, had died in peace and with dignity.

"I believe in a living and suffering church of Christ. I will not demand the right to die for myself, but that doesn't grant me the right to deny that to someone else," Mr Pascall said.

However, other Christians took a different view. David Rogers, vice-chair of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, said that he could not support any move which would lead to the taking of a human life.

"If a care worker goes to the top of Beachy Head with someone who is suicidal and pushes them off, that is murder," Mr Rogers said.

"I say injecting a person with a lethal overdose to ease their suffering and end their life likewise is murder."

Although Liberal Democrat policy still leaves the matter as one of individual conscience, it does now support the idea of the establishment of a commission to examine it more closely.

In particular, any such commission should consider repealing section 2 of the 1961 Suicide Act, which prevents doctors from acceding openly to repeated requests to die from suffering and terminally ill patients.

The motion said changing the law would permit doctors to assist patients who repeatedly request an end to their suffering "instead of having to help them secretly as at present".

After the debate, Paddy Ashdown, the party leader, said that he was "relaxed" about the decision although he was against euthanasia himself.

"It is another example of how the Liberal Democrats can take on issues which other parties don't discuss. I am opposed. It is a very balanced argument, but in the end it is one we should keep under review. My wife, on the other hand, takes a different view."