UK Politics

Peers say judges must sanction assisted dying cases

Nurse holding a patient's hand in hospital Image copyright SPL

The House of Lords has backed a proposal that would require judges to approve any cases of assisted dying in the event of it being legalised.

Peers approved a series of amendments put forward by Lord Pannick to Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill.

The crossbencher said he hoped his intervention would head off some of the objections that have been raised to the bill to make assisted dying lawful.

However, some Lords still expressed misgivings about the principle.

The controversial legislation is being discussed in the Lords and has multiple stages to go through in that chamber before it can potentially be introduced to the House of Commons.

It would allow doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of medication to patients with fewer than six months to live and who have expressed a wish to die.

'Decent thing'

Lord Pannick's amendments, among the 150 that have been tabled, dictate that a judge would also have to be satisfied that the patient's wish was genuine and not coerced.

But disability charity Scope is concerned a change in the law could lead to people feeling pressure to end their lives.

Lord Tebbit, whose wife Margaret was severely disabled by the IRA's bombing of a Brighton hotel in 1984, said he feared the day she would say to him: "You know, you're better off without me."

He added that: "There are many ways in which pressure could be brought to make people who are perhaps approaching the end of their lives - although I hope that my wife is not - to 'do the decent thing'."

"I don't think that these amendments would do anything to avoid that."

Former senior judges Baroness Butler-Sloss and Lord Carlile expressed scepticism about Lord Pannick's particular proposals, while supporting judicial involvement more generally.

Judicial underpinning

Lord Carlile called for a system overseen by judges who can decide cases on a "court-based model" rather than "a medical decision".

The former president of the Royal College of Surgeons, Lord Ribeiro, said that "the initial decision [to end one's life] must be one that is underpinned by the judiciary".

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of the pro-euthanasia campaign group Dignity in Dying, welcomed Friday's developments.

She said: "The acceptance of Lord Pannick's amendment is evidence that reason and common sense are winning the day. We have moved a significant step closer to a change in the law."

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