Lord Alderdice yesterday withdrew an amendment to the Coroners and Justice bill, which would have made assisted suicide legal, after the ruling was opposed by a majority of those Lords who spoke in the debate.
The amendment sought to remove the possibility of prosecution for those who help a person to die where that person has an incurable and disabling illness and a coroner has certified that the person has a free and settled wish to die.
In giving concluding remarks, Lord Bach said that their ‘"view remains that the Coroners and Justice Bill has never been, and is not now the appropriate vehicle for change in the criminal law as it applies to assisted suicide."
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton said: "If we support this amendment today, we say that terminally ill and severely disabled people do not deserve the very best forum and process to deliberate their life and death choices. The amendment has profound, far-reaching consequences, which strike fear — I am afraid it is fear — and apprehension into the lives of those who struggle to make society recognise that their lives have value and should be supported."
Lord Tebbit said that the law provides that we, as individuals, have no right to take life except in self-defence.
"It provides that the state, in acting for society, may take life or license the taking of life only in defence of the state or society itself. In short, the right or obligation to take life, or to license the taking of life, is strictly fettered and confined, and I believe that it should be so," he said.
"Many of those who regard humankind as no more than elevated animals are no less wary of fraying and fretting at those constraints than those who believe that life is God-granted and that the taking of life is to infringe on divine territory.
"I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, really has his heart in this. The expression, ‘bring their life to a close’, has about it a taint of weasel words to avoid the use of the more accurate words ‘kill themselves’.
"The plain fact is that there have been no prosecutions of people who have facilitated suicide by delivering those for whom life has become an excessive burden to the suicide factories in Switzerland. The fact that there could be such a prosecution may have deterred — indeed, I am sure that it has deterred — the compassionate from assisting the act of suicide in that way. Far more important, it has also deterred those who might have exerted pressure on a weak, ill and vulnerable person from whose death they might profit. In my view, the law is working perfectly well, or in some cases not working at all perfectly well, and we should leave it alone."
Anthony Ozimic of SPUC Pro-Life welcomed the news, saying: "The idea of allowing assisted suicide was condemned tonight as discriminatory, highly dangerous and threatening."Lords were offended by Lord Alderdice's suggestion that coroners should decide who may live or die under his amendment. His amendment was described as 'dismal', a 'travesty' and surrounded by 'weasal words'. We congratulate those Lords who so firmly opposed the amendment, and the many members of public who lobbied Lords prior to tonight's debate. The director of public prosecutions should read tonight's debate closely as he drafts his policy on prosecuting assisted suicide."