Monday, March 10, 2014
Care minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb has backed moves to legalise “assisted dying”.
The Liberal Democrat said he would vote in favour of allowing terminally ill adults with less than six months to live to choose to be helped to kill themselves.
Legislation has been drawn up by Labour former lord chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton and MPs would be allowed a free vote on the issue if it is debated in the House of Commons.
Several previous attempts to legislate on the issue have failed and both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have said they personally oppose such a change.
But Mr Lamb said that there appeared to be “quite widespread public support” for ending what was a “cruel” system that left relatives unsure if they would be prosecuted.
Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales, technically punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Guidelines issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2010 after one high-profile case indicated that anyone acting with compassion on the will of a dying person was unlikely to face criminal charges.
That has been the case in around 90 such deaths examined by prosecutors since then.
Critics, including doctors, disability campaigners and churches, warn that a formal change in the law would leave people vulnerable to pressure from family and others to end their lives.
The issue has split the House of Lords in recent debates, with the severely-disabled Baroness Campbell of Surbiton among those warning of the dangers. “It is not only dangerous for those who may see suicide as their only option, it can also be tempting for those who would benefit from their action,” she told peers.
Former Commons speaker Baroness Boothroyd insisted, however, that it was vital to change a system that added “cruelly to the suffering of people who want to die with dignity”.
Mr Lamb said that his own conversations with terminally-ill patients had swung his opinion in favour of legalisation. He said: “There need to be proper safeguards –that’s critically important,” he added. “You have absolutely got to guard against relatives or others seeking to get control of the estate. We have to be certain that it is an individual decision.”