Pro-life victory as peers reject Joffe bill
12 May 2006
The upper house of the UK parliament has today rejected a bill which would have permitted assisted suicide in England and Wales, by 148 votes to 100. Some 90 members of the House of Lords spoke in the debate on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, including many medical peers and disabled peers who spoke strongly against the proposed law. SPUC expressed great relief at the result. SPUC has opposed successive efforts to introduce the bill, and led national letter-writing campaigns lobbying members of the upper house to reject the bill today.
SPUC general secretary, Paul Tully, said: "The bill runs counter to the right to life of gravely ill and dying people, and would undermine the status of elderly and disabled people. We believe it would also lead to the practice of active euthanasia - extending the provision for passive euthanasia in the Mental Capacity Act, due to be implemented next year. The views of medical bodies, disability rights groups and faith organisations have rightly been prominent in the debate, and the need to protect rather than further undermine, the right to life has won the vote today. We must not relax our efforts to ensure the wider and more effective provision of palliative care, which all those participating the debate have agreed upon."
Lord Joffe pledged to reintroduce his bill in the next session of parliament, and pro-life campaigners insisted that supporters must not be complacent. "Nearly 500 peers - including very many government peers - did not vote today," added Mr Tully. "On a future occasion, today's vote may well be overturned if the government gets behind a bill of this nature."
During the debate, Lord Joffe, who proposed the bill, said: "We must find a solution to the unbearable suffering of patients whose needs cannot be met by palliative care." Lord Carlile said: "Everybody ... knows that those who are moving this bill have the clear intention of it leading to voluntary euthanasia." Baroness Finlay, a palliative care practitioner, said: "In letting this bill proceed, we give a message to the world that we will abandon the vulnerable and treat suffering by ending the sufferer's life. Let us get on with working for patients to live as well as possible until a naturally dignified death, not taken up with becoming complicit with suicide." [BBC, 12 May]
Lord Winston, the medic and broadcaster, described how his mother had suffered from dementia yet had recently become more aware and was enjoying life again. He said he opposed the bill. Lord Alton of Liverpool warned of the bad effects of suicide on families and society at large. Mr David Cameron MP, the leader of the opposition Conservative party, sent a message to the house in which he disagreed with the bill. His party's peers were nevertheless allowed a free vote on it. Lord McColl, Conservative health spokesman, mentioned Ms Alison Davis of No Less Human, SPUC's disability rights group, during the debate. Some years ago she had attempted suicide, but was now pleased that there had not then been a law like the one proposed by Lord Joffe. [SPUC, 12 May]
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth co-signed a letter published in today's Times newspaper. They wrote: "Were such a law enacted, the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed would find themselves under pressure, real or imagined, to ask for an early death. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that economic pressures might not come to play a significant part in determining whether to treat or recommend assisted death." [The Times, 12 May] Before the debate Dr Peter Saunders, director of Care Not Killing, said: "This is a very bad bill and one that would create great problems for old and sick patients and the medical and nursing professions." Care Not Killing was due to deliver a 100,000-signature petition to the prime minister's official home today. [Independent Catholic News, 12 May] A man in Warrington, England, with motor neurone disease called for peers to approve the bill. Mr Pete Jones has planned to travel to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland for assisted suicide. [icLiverpool, 11 May] A poll commissioned by the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society claimed that more than three quarters of the 1,770 respondents supported assisted dying as long as there were safeguards. [YouGov via Reuters on Yahoo, 12 May] [YouGov have refused to release the question that was used in their poll until next week.] Ms Polly Toynbee of the Guardian newspaper described opponents of the bill as "a cabal of bishops, rabbis, imams, Catholics, evangelicals and other believers". [Guardian, 12 May]
A law lecturer in the UK has described pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) as eugenic, after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority on Wednesday increased the number of conditions for which IVF embryos might be screened. Dr Jacqueline Laing of London Metropolitan University, pointed out that the European Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibited eugenics, yet PGD was "destructive eugenics; it's not therapeutic." Dr Laing told the Daily Telegraph: "Once you commodify human life - create, freeze and mass-produce it - selection and quality control are the upshot. This move is driven entirely by the financial interests of the fertility industry." [Daily Telegraph, 11 May]
A 74-year-old Norfolk, England, man who was jailed for sending images of aborted children to a hospital has said he will continue to campaign. Mr Ted Atkinson says he is just trying to educate people. During his 28-day sentence, he gave pro-life literature to fellow-prisoners. When working as a hospital porter, Mr Atkinson was dismissed for refusing to take a woman to where she was due to have an abortion. [Eastern Daily Press, 12 May] The Times newspaper has criticised Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn, for refusing to perform a hip-operation on Mr Atkinson because of his actions. [The Times, 12 May]
Colombian Bishop Hector Gutierrez has called the decision of the Constitutional Court to legalise some abortions "a mistake". He said: ``What it did was legalize a crime.'' [Guardian, 12 May]
A girl who became pregnant aged 11 is set to be Britain's youngest mother on record. The unidentified girl in Scotland, now 12, conceived the child with a 15-year-old boy. [icScotland, 12 May]