Page last updated at 23:37 GMT, Monday, 6 July 2009 00:37 UK

Assisted dying law to be debated

David Morris who chairs Independent Living Alternatives on the House of Lords debate

The law on assisted dying is to be thrust back into the spotlight during a House of Lords debate on the issue.

Peers will discuss a proposal by Lord Falconer calling for people not to be prosecuted for helping someone who is terminally ill to travel abroad to die.

More than 100 people from the UK have gone to Swiss clinic Dignitas to die, but as yet no-one has been prosecuted.

Lord Falconer will say helping someone go abroad to die should be allowed under a set of strict rules.

Such actions are deemed illegal under the Suicide Act.

But the former Lord Chancellor's amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill will call for the law not to apply if two doctors confirm the person in question is terminally ill and deemed competent enough to make such a decision.

No one has the stomach to enforce the current law, because it is inhumane and further provides no protection for the vulnerable
Lord Falconer

The motion will also say that the person travelling abroad to die should make a declaration that it is their decision to have an assisted death and this should be witnessed by an independent person.

Lord Falconer said: "No one has the stomach to enforce the current law, because it is inhumane and further provides no protection for the vulnerable.

"The threat [of prosecution] forces some people to go to die alone and earlier than otherwise for fear of what may happen to those who accompany them."

His move is being supported by Dignity in Dying.

A poll of more than 1,700 people carried out for the campaign group found two thirds supported a change in the law similar to the one being proposed.


Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, said: "Parliament finally has the opportunity to listen to the public and act on the issue.

"I hope they have the courage to do what is desperately needed and change the law to end the unnecessary threat of prosecution while safeguarding against abuse."

It comes after Debbie Purdy, a 46-year-old from Bradford who is terminally ill with multiple sclerosis, has fought a series of court battles over the issue.

She has asked for clarification over whether her husband would face prosecution for helping her travel to Switzerland.

She has already lost High Court and Appeal Court cases and is currently awaiting the verdict of Law Lords.

Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing Alliance, an umbrella group of doctors, religious organisations and charities, said changing the law may be "dangerous" as it could lead to vulnerable people being pushed into going to clinics like Dignitas when they did not really want to.

He added the current law was working well.

"It has a stern face to deter abuse and a kind heart to allow compassion in hard cases," said Dr Saunders.

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