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The Assisted Dying Bill (HL Bill 6): A Critique

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An analysis by members of the House of Lords of the Assisted Dying Bill

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Lord Falconer re-tabled his Assisted Dying Bill on Thursday 5 June. This Private Member's Bill, due to have its Second Reading on 18 July 2014, proposes to license doctors to supply lethal drugs to terminally ill adults who request them and who meet certain criteria. 

In a a report published today a group of Peers presented an analysis of the bill. 

In the report the authors ask the following questions:

- What evidence is there that the law as it stands is not working as it should?

- Where are the safeguards in Lord Falconer's Bill?

- If the Bill were to be passed into law, how could its provisions be enforced?

- What are the implications of medical opposition to such practices?

- Where is the evidence that such laws work satisfactorily elsewhere?

- How can the Bill's provisions be reconciled with social attitudes to suicide?

The Peers find that, in relegating the question of safeguards to codes of practice, the Bill is "asking Parliament to sign a blank cheque" and is "the equivalent of putting up notices on a railway embankment to warn the public against trespassing but not putting any fencing in place to discourage or prevent people from wandering onto the tracks".

"As legislators," they state, "we have to think carefully about the consequences as well as the intentions of legislation" and that "the criminal law exists, not to offer options to individuals, but to protect us, all of us, from harm, irrespective of our age, gender, race - and state of health". 

The authors conclude that "compassion may prompt us to empathise with a strong-willed individual who is completely clear about wanting to hasten death in preference to living with a terminal illness" but that "compassion for all terminally people requires that they receive the protection of the law and are not exposed to the unintended consequences of legislation designed to oblige a minority".

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