Lord Falconer proposes bill to legalise assisted dying for terminal ill in UK

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lord Falconer in 2009.
Image: Steve Punter.

Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom, announced on Tuesday that he would present a bill next week to the House of Lords to make it legal for patients suffering with terminal illnesses to request assistance from their doctors to end their lives. If passed, the law would apply to those with less than six months to live and mirrors a similar system in Oregon.

Falconer had previously chaired the Commission on Assisted Dying, an independent inquiry supported by the think tank Demos, that recommended that those with less than a year to live with a terminal illness ought to be able to request assistance to end their lives. Dignity in Dying, a campaign group for legalisation of assisted dying, is supporting the bill.

The bill's provisions would apply to those over 18 with a diagnosed terminal illness and access to lethal drugs would require demonstration of mental competence, independent assessment by two doctors, and being informed of other treatment and end-of-life options. The bill would not provide any new legal options for those with permanent but non-terminal illnesses like locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson, who brought a case through the English courts to demand a right to assisted dying. Nor would it help Paul Lamb, a paralysed man in Leeds who is continuing Nicklinson's case.

Bills introduced by members of Parliament do not usually become law without endorsement from the government. In 2006, David Cameron said of assisted dying: "I do not think we should tread over this line and we should not allow doctors or others positively to accelerate death — because I think the long-term consequences of permitting such action are too likely to be dangerous for society."