Amendments slow bill's progress
Is the Assisted Dying Bill about to be smothered under a cascade of amendments?
Last week, when there were 40 amendments down on his bill to allow terminally-ill people to end their own lives, the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, told me he wasn't shouting "Filibuster!"
He might be now. The latest list of amendments runs to 175 - and he may even need a couple of days to get the bill through committee stage.
Some big names seem to be weighing in with complicated process amendments. Superlawyers Lord Pannick and Lord Carlile, and former president of the family division of the High Court, Lady Bulter-Sloss, have put their names to amendments; as well as peers like the right-to-life campaigner Lord Alton, and the Bishop of Bristol.
Lord Pannick, who supports the bill, says his amendments would introduce judicial safeguards that he thinks would improve the bill and reassure some opponents. They would require a judge to rule that the person concerned had made a voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision.
Judges in the family division of the High Court, he says, regularly make life and death decisions. His amendments may well go to a vote tomorrow.
What seems to be absent in all this is any organised whipping against the bill, either by any of the parties or by any large organised group of opponents. Instead we seem to have something a bit more chaotic, with a thousand flowers (amendments anyway) blooming, with the assistance of differently-motivated groupsicles.
The bill would not necessarily be stopped by a "till they drop" committee stage debate on Friday - it could last until 5pm - because the committee could run on to another day. Indeed, there's talk of a deal to allow both Lord Saatchi's Medical Innovation Bill and the Assisted Dying Bill to continue in committee on 12 December. We shall see.
Anyway, here's a taste of some of the amendments on offer - including two rival wordings for a legal declaration someone requesting assisted dying would have to sign:
A1 (Lord Pannick et al) insert a specific reference to "the consent of the High Court (Family Division)" in relation to receiving "lawful assistance for assisted dying."
A3 (Lord Carlile et al) similar to A1, this would make a specific reference to the High Court, instead of just using the word "lawfully." Leave out "request and lawfully" and insert "apply to the Family Division of the High Court to."
A4 (Lord Pannick et al) certain things the High Court must be satisfied with before the process can continue e.g. the person is over 18, the person has the capacity to make the decision to end his or her own life etc.
A5 (Lord Carlile et al) similar to A4 but different things e.g. the person has made a written declaration before two independent witnesses, one of whom must be a solicitor in practice etc. Lord Mahinney has A6 down, which would add the requirement for a second declaration before witnesses.
A11 (Lord Alton) the person must be "able to administer to himself or herself a lethal dose of drugs through whatever route is normally employed for ingestion of food."
A12 (Lord McColl) "No other person apart from the person who is terminally ill may initiate a request for assistance to end a life. No registered medical practitioner, registered nurse or other health professional may suggest that a person consider seeking assistance to end his or her own life."
A13 (Lord Carlile et al) there must be two separate registered medical practitioners involved, as opposed to one.
A17 (Lord Carlile et al) add to the definition of a person is terminally ill person: as a direct consequence of that terminal illness, it is reasonably expected to die within three months.
A40 and 41 (Baroness Finlay) requirements of the two doctors e.g. they must be in regular clinical practice, hold a current licence to practice from the GMC, and be registered as a general practitioner or specialist.
A42 (Lord Bishop of Bristol) "The attending doctor and second doctor must be able to communicate with the person making the declaration in terms which the person understands and in the language of that person's choice, if necessary via an interpreter is not a relative of the person."
A65 (Lord Carlile et al) Capacity of an applicant - new clause. Sets out what counts as "capacity commensurate with a decision to end his or her own life and a clear, settled, informed and voluntary intention." E.g. "is not suffering from any impairment of, or disturbance in, the functioning of the mind or brain or from any condition which might cloud or impair his or her judgement."
A66 (Baroness Bulter-Sloss) Capacity to make the decision - new clause. "Assistance with suicide under this Act shall not be provided to a person unless and until it has been established that he or she has the capacity to make the decision to end his or her own life." Also contains provisions for the doctor to refer the person making the request to a psychiatrist for a specialist assessment of that person's capacity.
A67 and 68 (Lord Carlile et al) A person, or their representative, may apply to the court, who will appoint an independent medical expert to conduct a report.
A119 (Baroness Richardson) The operator of a hospice or registered residential care home may register, in respect of that hospice or registered residential care home, a conscientious objection to the provisions of this Act with the Care Quality Commission.
A172 (Lord Carlile et al) a new wording for the declaration form which must be signed by the patient and the witnesses.
"I have [condition], a terminal condition from which I am expected to die within three months of the date of this declaration. I am of sound mind and I have a clear, settled and voluntary intention to end my own life and I seek an Order from the Court that assistance be provided to enable me to do so. I consider that in the absence of such assistance my human rights under Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights would be breached.
I make this declaration voluntarily and in the full knowledge of its significance. I understand that I may revoke this declaration at any time."
A173 Baroness Nicholson et al. also want to change the wording
"I [name] hereby declare that, in the event that my circumstances should at a future time be such as to render me eligible for assistance with suicide under the terms of the Assisted Dying Act 2014, I shall wish to consider requesting lawful assistance to end my life under the terms of the said Act. I make this declaration of my own free will.
I understand that in making this declaration I am incurring no obligation, should the circumstances referred to above arise, to proceed with a request for assistance with suicide and that I may withdraw this declaration at any time."