Exclusive: Human rights lawyer Lord Joffe likens the battle for an assisted dying law to the abolition of slavery

The 82-year-old South African said passage of the Bill is inevitable

Around 1,000 people every year will end their lives through a new assisted dying law, according to the peer who has made the introduction of legislation allowing the terminally ill to choose when they die the cornerstone of his life’s work.

Former human rights lawyer Lord Joffe compared opponents of the Assisted Dying Bill, debated in the House of Lords on Friday, to those who argued against decriminalising homosexuality and who opposed legalising abortion and inter-faith marriage. He also likened the battle for an assisted dying law to the abolition of slavery.

The 82-year-old South African said passage of the Bill, which will let patients with less than six months to live request life-ending medication from a doctor that they must self-administer, is inevitable.

Lord Joffe, a crossbench peer, has made four attempts to change the law – the last in 2006 when his Bill was defeated by 148 votes to 100 before it could be scrutinised in any detail – and said the former Labour Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer was the right man to lead the latest version of the Bill with his support.

He told the Independent: “Most of those who oppose assisted dying opposed the decriminalisation of homosexuality, they opposed inter-faith marriage and abortions, all of these. Opponents [to assisted dying] don’t seem to recognise we are developing into a more and more compassionate and caring society. This doesn’t mean they themselves are not caring and compassionate people, it means they have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the compassionate development of our law.

Video: The assisted dying debate

“The Bill will get through – the only question is when. Assisted dying is spreading throughout the world. More and more communities are passing or considering legislation to allow assisted dying, subject to strict safeguards. But I’m certain it will get through in this country… one is comforted by the fact that it took William Wilberforce about 17 attempts to get slavery abolished.”

The Assisted Dying Bill is based largely on a system that has operated in Oregon since 1997. Lord Joffe said his estimate of 1,000 deaths a year in England and Wales is based on data collated in the state over the last 17 years, where an average of 0.2 per cent of all deaths come about as a result of assisted dying.

He also dismissed the concerns of the Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Carlisle who wrote in The Independent yesterday/on Thursday that “it is always dangerous to make laws according to a very few, very difficult cases, especially on matters of life and death”.

Lord Joffe said: “It’s not a little number of cases. Based on incidence of assisted dying in Oregon, with a lot smaller population, we estimate we would have about 1,000 assisted dying deaths each year - that’s not a small number. There is no evidence at all that it would undermine the protection of the most vulnerable members of society. Much of the opposition is about looking for reasons why not rather than considering the evidence and coming to an objective view on the position.”

Since 2002 more than 250 Britons have travelled to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying, whose figures Lord Joffe’s estimate is based on, believe around 9,300 people in England and Wales would discuss assisted dying with their GP or family, 1,600 people wish to continue with such a request, meet the eligibility criteria and receive a prescription for life-ending medication. They said approximately 990 people a year would take the prescribed life-ending medication and have an assisted death.

Alistair Thompson, spokesperson for Care not Killing, said that while Lord Joffe’s estimate was correct it masked how many people are likely to choose assisted dying in the future. He said: “In the first year Oregon changed the law there were 24 prescriptions for life-ending medication and 16 assisted suicides. That jumped to 116 and 85 respectively last year, so while we can expect more than 1,000 assisted suicides here if the law passes, in the future that figure is likely to also jump five-fold.”

More than 130 peers are expected to debate the Bill on Friday – almost double the number that discussed Lord Joffe’s Bill in the chamber 10 years ago.

Lord Joffe said: “If the Bill passes, Parliament will demonstrate we are a caring society which has compassion for the people who are suffering terribly and that we respect the right of individuals to make decisions for their own lives.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links