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Former Tory Lord Chancellor urges Upper House to protect all human life

During yesterday's debate on encouraging or assisting suicide peers warned that any move towards a right-to-die would be a slippery slope to a duty-to-die for many disabled, very sick and vulnerable people.

Lord MacKay of Clashfern: "In my view, respect for and protection of human life are a defining characteristic of a civilised society. This country has long had protection in place in one form or another against assisted suicide. I quite understand what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said about his amendment, but any proposal to alter the current position involves a judgment that a certain kind of life, or a certain span of life, has become unworthy of support from that principle. If you attempt to alter the law on suicide and the law relating to attempted suicide, you immediately bring to the attention of those who suffer from serious disability the point that, if another type of life is thought to be unworthy of protection, or is deemed unnecessary to protect because of the degree of suffering or weakness that may result from it, that judgment can be applied also to disabled people. That is the reason, I believe, why so many disabled people object to any change in the relevant law. That aspect has to be kept in mind when we are considering a matter of this kind."

Lord Waldegrave: "We have to be realistic. We have heard the phrase “predatory families”; there are also such things as predatory bureaucracies. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, said most exactly what worries me. This would open the way to a shift in perception across the board, and it would begin to shift the perception within the appalling decisions that have to be made about resource allocation within health services. It would open another front. The health service bureaucracy has to be able to rule that kind of resource allocation out by saying that that is not something that we will consider. We have heard wonderful examples today from patients, doctors, nurses and lawyers. All the individuals who work within these bureaucracies are of course sanctified, particularly when they are in your Lordships’ House. But bureaucracies do not have souls, and given broad signals, they can move quite quickly in ways that individuals looking at hard cases had originally not envisaged. I urge noble Lords to keep this light on red."

Lord Alton: "I know that many noble Lords do not agree with me on some of the beginning-of-life issues—I would not expect them to—but we should think back to the 1967 debates. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, is present. He spoke in another place during those debates, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, who was present earlier. During those debates many warnings were given about how we could end up with doctors simply stamping certificates in order to agree things. That is precisely what happens today. Seven million abortions later, surely no one can doubt that that early decision, which was taken without due and proper consideration, has led to unimaginable consequences. Therefore, I simply urge that, before we take an enormously important decision of this kind, we give it proper thought and reflection. Indeed, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Kenneth Macdonald, whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, quoted in his introductory remarks, said precisely that—that there should be a profound debate and widespread public consultation before any change is made in the law."


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