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Assisted Dying Bill debated in the House of Lords

The Bill’s reading comes at a time when leading church figures are changing their views on assisted dying and following the Supreme Court ruling in the ‘right to die’ cases.

The Supreme Court recently suggested this matter should be considered by parliament in light of the failed "right-to-die" case brought by the widow of "locked-in syndrome" sufferer Tony Nicklinson.  Lord Falconer’s private member’s bill now seeks to legalize ‘assisted dying’ in select cases.

The Lords was fairly evenly split, and so the bill has passed its second reading, but is unlikely to become law because it does not have government support.

Those in favour argue it’s about patient choice, lessening of suffering and fairness – the rich can travel to Switzerland whereas the poor cannot. This is countered by arguments about the fundamental value of life, that this would effectively provide a financial incentive for the taking of life and that the proposed safeguards to prevent abuse are utterly inadequate.

Whilst the bill is unlikely to succeed, perhaps the biggest news is the overt shift in the views of leading Churchmen in the debate.  Both Desmond Tutu and George Carey have decided that, after lifelong opposition, they now agree with most in society that assisted dying ought to be permitted.

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The debate is clearly active and fluid with public opinion  in general in favour and medical professionals in general against.  The  impetus currently seems to be on the side of those who supported assisted dying but the strength of feeling on both sides highlights the ethical complexity and fundamental moral importance of this issue.