Falconer assisted suicide bill is unsafe, say British Lords

By Michael Cook

Lord Falconer

Lord Falconer

With euthanasia and assisted suicide on the legislative agenda in a number of jurisdictions around the world, there is a blizzard of reports for and against. A British group called Living and Dying Well, composed mostly of members of the House of Lords, and chaired by a barrister and a palliative care expert, has produced a stern rebuttal of claims that assisted suicide is safe.

“Another ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill: Does it pass the public safety test?” critiques an assisted dying bill proposed by Lord Charles Falconer after he produced his own report. The Falconer bill would license doctors to supply lethal drugs to terminally ill patients to enable them to end their own lives, much like the existing law in Oregon.

However, Living and Dying Well claims that the bill is unsafe. It fails to settle the important issues of mental capacity and consent; it invites doctor shopping; and it ignores the unreliability of diagnoses of terminal illness. It radically changes the law rather than tweaking it.

“The fundamental problem with the safeguards in the bill, insofar as they may be said to exist at all, is that they are designed around the wishes of a small minority of strong-minded individuals who are clear in their minds that they want to end their lives rather than around the need to protect much larger numbers of more vulnerable people from self-harm. The bill is pervaded by a sense that those who request physician-assisted suicide will have thought long and carefully about their decision, that the doctors who assess their requests will know them and their families well and will be willing to participate in hastening their deaths and that it is possible for mental capacity, freedom from depression, settled intent and absence of coercion to be readily established. The reality is far removed from this vision.”

Editor’s note. This appeared at bioedge.org.