THE House of Lords has rejected Lord Forsyth’s hijacking amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill which would have forced the Government to introduce assisted-suicide legislation within a year.
A vote of 179 to 145 on Wednesday evening was the 12th time since 1997 that Parliament has thrown out an attempt to scrap the prohibitions against assisting in suicides, punishable by up to 14 years in jail under the 1961 Suicide Act, and to license doctors to hand out lethal drugs for patients to kill themselves.
Forsyth, a former minister in John Major’s government, called a division on his amendment so it is reasonable to conclude that there must have been some optimism within the euthanasia lobby that it would succeed.
Instead, it failed miserably – prompting Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) and its acolytes to act as if in mourning, evidenced by the mass blocking of Twitter accounts of many of those with whom they disagreed and who took to the internet to taunt them.
They must be very disappointed indeed, given how much work they have invested into trying to the change the law. It has been a major project.
Lord Forsyth’s amendment was itself widely touted as a possible pivotal moment for change, causing some excitement in the media, but it may have been necessary just to keep the campaign going as the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher foundered horribly in the Lords, deprived of time and government support and ailing so badly that had it been a patient in hospital it might have been placed on end-of-life care.
It failed, too, and now the Lords are being accused of cowardice by the euthanasia lobby, who just don’t get it. Parliament does not want to pass a law to kill the sick and to put the vulnerable at unimaginable risk. Who cares if the Dutch and the Canadians are already doing it? It’s insane, and it is right that it should not be permitted here.
Tory MP Danny Kruger, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well, summed up the feeling of many Parliamentarians:
‘Given that supporters of assisted suicide have said that the House of Lords is more supportive than the Commons, this is ample evidence that assisted suicide enjoys neither momentum nor support. This result ought to be an indicator that future time should not be given over to this issue again.’
It would be better if the euthanasia activists gave up. But they probably won’t. It is more likely that they will complain that the Commons and the country have been denied a proper debate in spite of the thousands of Parliamentary hours already spent discussing assisted suicide, and the vast amount of column inches given over to the subject in the Press.
It is more likely they will continue to try to everything they possibly can to get an assisted-suicide or euthanasia law on to the statute books. The Forsyth amendment itself is evidence of this. It smacked of desperation.
His proposal was so outrageous in its unprecedented demand to dictate what policies must be followed by a current or future administration that it was always going to be thrown out by the Government, which rightly opposed it.
It failed not because Conservative peers obeyed the party whip but because most peers followed their consciences and concluded that it was wrong.
The breakdown of votes reveals that only 26 per cent of the 179 peers who opposed the amendment could have voted with the Conservative whip. Twenty-seven Tories defied the Government, most of them known to be supporters of assisted suicide.
For now the fight to change the law in England and Wales has been lost. But it will continue and possibly intensify in Scotland and in Jersey in the hope that a fire in one part of the country will be the source of a blaze in another.
At least for the present time many of the disabled, elderly and gravely ill people who might have faced pressure to end their lives prematurely can go to bed at night knowing they remain safe.
For that, the Lords must be thanked for their bravery. They do not deserve to be castigated as cowards by the side who lost.