"We Must Act Now on Assisted Suicide Bill"

Political Consultant Calls for Immediate Action to Stop UK Legislation Threat

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It’s been an active few weeks for the assisted suicide campaign with a recent debate in the House of Lords and the media trumpeting the news that the Minster for Care and Support, Norman Lamb MP, would support a change in the law if Lord Falconer’s Assisted Suicide Bill came to the Commons.

The debate allowed the pro-assisted suicide squad to test the strength of their opponents in advance of the Second Reading of the Bill, the first major debate in the House of Lords. No date for that Reading has yet to be announced but as The House of Lords seldom votes against a Bill at Second Reading, it is highly likely it will make progress beyond that stage.

Those who watched the debate will have seen that proponents of assisted suicide got more than they bargained for.  Disabled Baronesses Tanni Grey-Thompson and Jane Campbell powerfully reminded Lord Falconer and his supporters that relaxing the law would threaten the vulnerable, especially those who felt a burden on society as those who are less able-bodied sometimes do.

Frustrated by this, pro-assisted suicide campaigners Lord Warner and Baroness Murphy resorted to rudeness. First, Baroness Murphy, an able-bodied Tory peer, patronised Lady Grey-Thompson who has spina bifida and Lady Campbell who has spinal muscular atrophy with a lecture on the difference between those who are terminally ill, and those who have chronic disabilities, as if from their wheelchairs they needed to be taught. Then, Lord Warner then made it worse by likening opponents of assisted suicide to those who complain about abortion, tarring them all as “residents of a civil society Jurassic Park”.

None of our side had mentioned abortion, but the comparison was apt. The debates during the Abortion Act in 1966 make clear that the law was supposed to relate to hard cases. In practice we have abortion on demand. If Lord Warner – one of the chief supporters of a liberalisation of the law – sees a parallel between Assisted Suicide legislation and the Abortion Act, then it casts serious doubt on the credibility of Lord Falconer and others who say that this would not be the beginning of a slippery slope. Indeed, the “protections” in Falconer’s proposed Bill mirror precisely those in the Abortion Act and, as this column has exposed recently, are as much use as a chocolate fireguard.

That the assisted suicide squad had to resort to insulting disabled peers shows their intellectual desperation. But, the assisted suicide lobby is well-organised, well-funded and has influential and vociferous parliamentary support.

Supporters of euthanasia (for that is what assisted suicide really is) have been securing parliamentary time frequently, despite the fact that assisted suicide has been debated and voted on numerous times in recent years as well as having been the subject of two dedicated parliamentary Committees in the House of Lords alone. They are persistent and determined. It is quite possible that, were the Bill to make the House of Commons, it would be too late to organise a coordinated response. Our MPs, moved by hard-case stories, could sleep-walk in to voting in favour of a change thinking that was the compassionate thing to do, just as only 29 MPs voted against the Abortion Act at its Second Reading back in 1967.

We must act, now. First, we must ensure that we do not make light of how difficult life can be for those living with terminal illnesses, particularly those who want to die. It would be a peculiarly hard-hearted person who was not moved by some of the stories that have been made public about those suffering at the end of their lives.

But we must not be afraid to argue that there is nothing compassionate about putting the vulnerable at risk. This is a matter of public safety, and we must not allow it to be spun otherwise. As Baroness Campbell said in her excellent contribution to the debate last week “This is a dangerous time to consider facilitating assistance with suicide for those who most need our help and support. It is not only dangerous for those who may see suicide as their only option, but can be tempting for those who would benefit from their absence.”

While the Bill is still in the House of Lords, we must mobilise. Parliament and Government must be made to feel the full force of opposition from the grass roots. With an election coming up where nobody seems to know what will happen, writing to your MP can be effective. So few people write to their MPs about moral issues, that two or three letters has a real impact.

Send an email or letter to your MP making two simple points: 1) that you oppose liberalising the law on assisted suicide because of the risk such changes would pose to public safety and especially the most vulnerable in society and; 2) that a vote in favour would lose them your support in the 2015 General Election; and. 3) include this excellent 2 page note produced by our Bishops.

The website of the think-tank Living and Dying Well (www.livinganddyingwell.org.uk) is also an excellent source of information. 

I have learnt much about MPs in my 31 years around parliament and they have never been more active in trying to keep their constituents happy, each of them terrified about losing their seats. It wouldn’t take many letters to make them think twice about supporting Falconer’s Bill. Ask your local MP to attend a parish meeting, particularly if he is Norman Lamb!

Parliamentarians themselves need to stick to the public safety angle. Some may agree in principle that we should permit others to help people to die, but there is no way around the argument that allowing the practice would put vulnerable people at risk as Belgium, Holland and Oregon have shown. Parliament and Government have a duty to protect the vulnerable, not put them in jeopardy.

We must be resolute in the face of insults and jeering from those want to see our society taken back to a genuinely retrograde civil society “Jurassic park” where a winner takes all, devil-take the hindmost attitude defines the way we see the vulnerable.

Cllr Chris Whitehouse KSG is Managing Director of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, a Trustee of The Right to Life Charitable Trust, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).

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