UK Politics

Assisted dying: Viewpoints from Lords debate

The House of Lords is debating plans to legalise assisted dying. More than 130 peers have asked to take part. Here is a flavour of what they have been saying:

Image caption Lord Falconer is making the case for a change in the law

For a minority of people dying, no matter how good the end-of-life care, they do not want to go on struggling. The principle of this bill is that those who are terminally ill should have choice over how they die but subject to effective safeguards which prevent pressure and abuse. It would not lead to more deaths but less suffering. Lord Falconer, former Labour Lord Chancellor

Image caption Lord Tebbit said the bill would have undesirable consequences

A few months ago, an elderly lady asked me how she could ensure that her wish to leave all her assets to a charity for ex-servicemen and women could be entrenched against any attempts by other would-be beneficiaries to override it. She said 'I have no children but I have several vultures awaiting my death'. This bill will be a breeding ground for vultures, individual and corporate. It creates too much financial incentive for the taking of life. Lord Tebbit, former Conservative party chairman

Image caption Baroness Campbell likened the bill to a "runaway train"

This bill is about me. I did not ask for it. I did not want it but it is about me nevertheless. Before anyone disputes this, imagine this is already law and I ask for assistance to die. Do you think, my lordships, that I will be refused. No. You can be sure there were will be doctors and lawyers willing to support my right to die. Sadly, many would put their energies into that rather than improving my situation and getting me to change my mind. This bill offers no comfort to me. It frightens me because in periods of greatest difficulty I know I might be tempted to use it. It only adds to the burdens and challenges life holds for me. But it is not just about me. My story is echoed by the majority of disabled and terminally ill people in Britain today. Many are outside this House protesting against this bill. I urge you to go and talk to them. Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, disability rights campaigner diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy when she was less than a year old

I have seen a number of people die with dignity, without committing suicide, assisted or otherwise. The suggestion seems to be implied that assisted suicide will lead inevitably to a dignified, comfortable and speedy death. Can this suggestion be justified? I have seen some evidence that this will not be the outcome. Lord Mackay, former Conservative Lord Chancellor

I support this bill and I do so because I do not wish to deny to other people something which I might want for myself one day in the future. Lord Dubs, former Labour MP

Being a Christian is quite compatible with supporting this Bill. When suffering is so great, when patients know they are at the end of life, make repeated pleas to die, it seems a denial of loving compassion which is the hallmark of Christianity to refuse to allow them to fulfil their own clearly stated request - after clearly, a proper process of safeguards have been observed. That is what I would want. Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury

When I was 18, I broke my back in a riding accident. I was in great pain and after being taken off morphine injections, I was prescribed distalgesics. I had been very active, didn't know if I would ever walk again and feared becoming a burden to my parents who were elderly. So I became very clever at not taking all my tablets and keeping a store of them just in case. I don't think I would ever have taken them. I just wanted to be free from the pain and I was obviously depressed. But I was lucky. A wonderful nurse befriended me, helped me to feel positive and after a long time I got better. But what if instead of stockpiling distalgesics, the Bill for assisted suicide and I had been in that frame of mind? I know my circumstances were very different from the circumstances envisaged in this Bill. But they are not too different from some of the young people who seek support to end their lives in jurisdictions that have changed the law and started off not too long ago with the same intention as Lord Falconer. Conservative peer Baroness Morris of Bolton, former shadow women's minister

Image caption Baroness O'Neill said the bill would not assist the dying

The bill does rather little to assist the dying. That noble purpose would require legislation that entitles all of us, in our dying months, weeks and days, to the necessary help, care and pain relief whether or not we are competent to choose. This bill does little to assist most of those who are dying and this bill is mistitled. Baroness O'Neill, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Image caption The Archbishop of York said coming to terms with one's own death was a "gift"

This bill is about inciting a philosophy, which not only Christians but also other thoughtful people of goodwill who have had experience in care for the dying, must find incredible. That is the ancient stoic philosophy that ending one's life in circumstances of distress is an assertion of human freedom. That it cannot be. Human freedom is only won by being reconciled with the need to die. Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York

I see this as a tightly focused and compassionate bill which will clarify the incoherent legal framework we have heard about today. I am absolutely committed to the provisions in the bill. It has a narrow, specific focus on the terminally ill and contains strict, upfront safeguards...It is an entirely appropriate measure for this country to adopt. Baroness Jay, former Labour leader of the House of Lords

I would expect in agreeing to the second reading of this bill, your lordships would give the tens of thousands diagnosed with conditions which might lead to weeks of torture before they die the means of escape from that unnecessary fate. Lord Avebury, former Liberal MP Eric Lubbock

Image caption Lord Mawhinney spoke about the recent death of his mother

My beloved mother died last year. She spent the last 18 months in a home. She died of Alzheimer's and increasing dementia. My mother kept telling us she was a burden. I like to think that she did that in the confidence of knowing that my life and our love for her was such that however big the burden, it was nothing as compared to the love we shared throughout our lives. Lord Mawhinney, former Tory cabinet minister

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Media captionBaroness Wheatcroft say her mother was in agony and "would have used a loaded gun"

My mother fought leukaemia for as long as she could, made the most of her life and adored getting to know her grandchildren. But in the end she was in a hospital bed begging for help. She was in agony. I too begged for help. I ran round the hospital trying to find a medic who would do something but they argued she was getting as much morphine as they dared to give her and any more would be illegal and they couldn't help. The noble Baroness, Baroness Findlay, referred to this bill as offering a loaded gun. My lords, if my mother could have grasped that loaded gun, she would have fired it and if she couldn't, I think I would have fired it for her. Baroness Wheatcroft, Conservative peer and former newspaper editor

We have been talking extensively in this debate about the dignity of a planned death. I don't believe in that planned death being dignified. There is much more dignity, in some ways, in being able to ensure wherever possible that people die with their relatives around them in an unplanned death, in the way my mother died with her youngest grandson present. Lord Winston, Labour peer and scientist

The wish to dispose of the old is prevalent in our society. We should fight it and not succumb to its throttling embrace through death on demand, the underpinning of this bill....Doctors, as they are the first to say, are not God. They truly cannot tell when death will steal upon us. That argument underpinning this bill is also false...I do not want our trusted NHS to turn from being the National Health Service into the National Death Service, the change that this bill offers. Baroness Nicholson, Lib Dem peer

Image caption Baroness Butler-Sloss said the proposed safeguards were "utterly inadequate"

Listening to this debate, which I have to say is utterly fascinating and deeply moving, there is quite clearly a very difficult balance and that means the balance we are looking at requires very carefully safeguards. I must say that my view is that the safeguards in this bill are utterly inadequate. The safeguards need to be on the face of primary legislation and not left to a secretary of state to produce regulations....How on earth are people going to find a doctor, who will be the attending doctor, if their own GP is opposed to doing it. You almost certainly won't find a doctor who knows the patient and then you have to find a second doctor...Is there the real danger there will not an exhaustive assessment of the determination to die, a proper looking at the vulnerability, a proper looking at those who feel they have an obligation to die because they have got to an age where their family would like to have the money rather than paying for them. Baroness Butler-Sloss, former Lord Justice of Appeal