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Dr Peter Saunders: The law on assisted suicide is not broken and does not need ‘fixing’


On Friday 11 September MPs will vote on the Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill tabled by Labour’s Rob Marris. In case you were wondering, it’s called ‘No 2’ because an almost identical Assisted Dying Bill has been tabled in the House of Lords by Labour peer Lord Falconer.

Marris wants to change the law to allow mentally competent adults with less than six months to live to obtain help to kill themselves with lethal drugs.

Over the next month, hundreds of thousands of pounds will be spent by the campaign group Dignity in Dying (the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society), who drafted the Bill, aided and abetted by its principle cheerleader, the BBC, who can be guaranteed to give it the full oxygen of publicity and to grant an international platform to anyone who supports it.

Expect to see more celebrities coming out to back what they perceive to be a popular cause, more opinion polls telling us that most people want to see a change in the law, and more cynically timed cases of people having to journey to Switzerland to end their lives at the Dignitas facility because there is no similar opportunity here.

Expect also to see other campaign groups with more radical agendas entering the fray in an attempt to see the Bill’s provisions extended to a far wider group of people.

The presence of determined and well-funded groups like the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (SOARS), The British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society and Exit International assures us that any change in the law to allow assisted suicide for anyone at all will be followed by a continuing clamour to broaden its provisions even more. If Marris’s law passes it will be only the beginning.

One of the major arguments put by all of these campaigners is that our current law is broken and needs fixing. In fact Dignity in Dying plans to plaster up ‘Fix our broken assisted dying law’ posters all over London throughout the summer.

Leading politicians across all major parties have already signalled their opposition to a change in the law. They include SNP leaders Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond, Labour leadership candidates Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn, past and present Liberal Democrat leaders Nick Clegg and Tim Farron, and most of the Tory government’s cabinet, including Prime Minister David Cameron himself.

But even Cameron, who has been consistent and resolute in his opposition, seems to weakening under the pressure to concede that the current law is not fully fit for purpose. In an answer to a recent parliamentary question he suggested that although he did not support Marris’s and Falconer’s proposals, he conceded that there were ‘imperfections and problems with the current law’.

But is our law broken? What is the actual evidence for this claim?

I am struggling to find any at all.

Tomorrow on TCW I will be looking at this is in more detail and explaining why our law as it stands is both fit for purpose and necessary.

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Peter Saunders
Peter Saunders
Peter is Campaign Director at Care Not Killing and CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship

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