Euthanasia laws examined by new Lords committee
BY SIMON CALDWELL PARLIAN1LNI IS to set up a committee to re-examine the question of whether euthanasia should be decriminalised.
The House of Lords Liaison Committee has recommended that a new ad hoc select committee be established to consider changes in the public perception of assisted suicide and the experience of countries such as Holland where the practice is lawful.
The committee, which will meet for the first time next April, could overturn the decision of a similar committee which ruled against legal euthanasia after an extensive investigation 10 years ago.
The House of Lords Liaison Conunittee report confirmed that moves to establish the select committee have come directly as a result of Lord Joffe's Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, which is to be re-introduced into Parliament in the new session.
"Almost 10 years have elapsed since the subject was considered by the Select Committee on Medical Ethics which reported in 1994," the report said.
"Since then other countries have introduced such legislation and public opinion in the United Kingdom has become more engaged in the issue. We consider that a select committee of this House would be well placed to consider major ethical issues of this kind and accordingly we recommend the appointment of an ad hoc select committee upon the Bill.
"The Bill will have to be reintroduced in the next session, read a second time and committed to a select committee. Accordingly, we recommend that the committee begin its work after the Easter recess."
According to the British Medical Journal, Lord Joffe told the liaison committee that then had been a swing in public opinion in favour of euthanasia since the case of Diane Pretty, who died in May last year three days after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that her husband could not "help her to die".
Lord Joffe said that opinion polls now revealed that about 80 per cent of the public supported euthanasia_ The move to set up the committee met with scorn, however, from pro-life groups and parliamentarians.
John Smeaton of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children called on Catholics to actively oppose the Joffe Bill ahead of its reintroduction while Phyllis Bowman of Right to Life, described the establishment of the select committee as a procedural abuse.
Lord Alton of Liverpool said: 'This is the oldest trick in the political book. If you don't get what you want, you wait a bit, form another committee, then you stack the membership with people who arc of your view and you keep on doing that until you get the outcome you desire.
"The ethical issues are the same as they were 10 years ago. Then, members went to Holland and saw how the law operated there and many of them who were supporters of euthanasia came baCk with a different opinion."
He added: "What would be wholly unacceptable is if this committee was to be stacked with people in favour of euthanasia."
Lord Alton said Lord Joffe's Private Member's Bill now presented a real danger of euthanasia becoming law.
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society welcomed the establishment of the new select committee.
Chief executive Deborah Annetts said: "The Government's current position is based on evidence which is 10 years out of date. I hope the select committee will consider new evidence from other countries where assisted dying laws are working very well.
"Hundreds of terminally ill people have contacted us to voice their• support for the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, and I am delighted the Lords are taking their concerns seriously."
Joanna Bogle: Page 6