May 22, 2006

House Of Lords Soundly Rejects Assisted Suicide Proposal

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express (subscribe)

LONDON--As disability rights activists and pro-life groups chanted in protest outside their debating chambers, the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly Friday to reject a law that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide in the United Kingdom.

After spirited debate from both sides of the issue, the proposal by Lord Joffe was defeated by a 148-100 vote.

The measure, which was patterned after Oregon's assisted suicide law, would have allowed doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for terminally ill patients to take on their own. Joffe's bill, however, did not include the same protections for people with mental illnesses that are included in Oregon's law.

Many disability groups have strongly opposed efforts to make assisted-suicide and euthanasia legal, believing that such laws would put the lives of people with disabilities and certain medical conditions at increased risk, particularly at a time when health care costs are high. They have noted that doctors too often determine that a person's disability is intolerable.

Baroness Nicola Chapman, who two years ago became the first person with a congenital disability appointed to serve in the House of Lords, told her peers in the chamber Friday that doctors have told her many times that she would die soon.

"In describing my condition, many people would assume unbearable suffering," said the Baroness, who has experienced hundreds of fractures because of osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly known as "brittle bone disease".

"I would hate to be in a situation where I could be offered physician-assisted suicide as a treatment option," she explained.

Assisting in a suicide in the United Kingdom is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. In the past eight years, 42 people from the UK have traveled to Switzerland for help in ending their lives. Some reportedly were not in advanced stages of terminal illnesses, but instead had disabilities that would not have impacted the length of their lives.

Two days before the vote, the Royal College of Physicians announced that it had changed its formerly neutral position, and now opposes Lord Joffe's proposal after a poll of 5,000 doctors found that 73 percent did not want the current law changed.

Last year, the British Medical Association decided to take a neutral position on legalizing physician-assisted suicide, dropping years of resistance to changes in the law.

Friday's vote does not end the debate over assisted suicide, but postpones another vote on the bill for at least six months.

"Lords block assisted dying bill" (BBC News)

Video: "Lords Block Assisted Dying Bill" (Sky News)

"Lords block right to die bill" (The Guardian)

"Doctors oppose right-to-die law" (BBC News)

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Posted on May 22, 2006