Ahead of the debate on amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill in the House of Lords, Baroness Jane Campbell reflects on the dangers of new legislation which could introduce assisted suicide by the back door.’
Few would argue there’s an awful lot to be worried about at the moment. As disabled people, we have a particular focus on a number of things, whether it’s the unwillingness of the government to support us during the pandemic, difficulties getting the health and social care we need and an increase in the costs of living that are making tight budgets even tighter.
This week the House of Lords is back debating the Health and Social Care Bill, which has many implications for disabled people but now has a new threat – assisted suicide by the back door.
The Conservative peer Lord Forsyth has thrown a googly into proceedings by tabling an amendment to the bill which would see draft legislation to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with medical assistance.
This is a cynical attempt by those in favour of changing the law on assisted suicide to attach a rider to new legislation which has the backing of the government. This is at a time when there is already an Assisted Dying Bill before the House of Lords, which is now waiting in the queue for thorough scrutiny.
It is wrong to use parliamentary procedure to try to impose new legal requirements on the (quite literally) life and death issue of assisted suicide into the substance of other legislation.
A debate about assisted suicide needs a detailed and rigorous approach. We need thoughtful and informed debate, with evidence from experts from across the opinion spectrum and an understanding of the impact of assisted suicide legislation from other countries. We need to carefully examine how people are treated at the end of their lives in this country, what options should be available to them and why it is people are often not getting the palliative care they need.
It is a controversial issue about which most of us have strong opinions. Last year the British Medical Association became neutral on the matter by a wafer-thin majority. Palliative care doctors argue strongly that the current law should remain as it is. The recent debate in the House of Lords saw a near 50/50 split of those in favour and those against.
In the meantime, legislators need to listen carefully to disabled people. We are concerned that changes to the law which open the door to assisted suicide will lead to pressure on us to take the lethal (and cheap) way out.
Instead of the thoughtful analysis needed, we get a distracting amendment from Lord Forsyth to government-sponsored legislation which allows for nothing of the kind. This type of political hijacking is unhelpful and unwarranted, and a waste of parliamentary time.
The Health and Social Care bill is an important piece of law that will impact services delivered to disabled people and incorporate a massive shakeup to the way our NHS is organised. It will also see the biggest changes in how people and their families have to pay for social care services that we have seen for decades. It will not only affect millions of disabled people. It will affect the vast majority of those who live in this country.
Parliament should spend its time and resources on scrutinising this bill in the appropriate way. We should not have to deal with the distraction of politicians attempting to manipulate the way Parliament works. Trying to sneak in such a fundamental change in the way we consider the end of life issues is wrong. I hope that Lord Forsyth will reconsider and withdraw his amendment.
Jane Campbell is a crossbench peer and co-founder of Not Dead Yet.