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15th May 2009

Please write to Peers and ask them to oppose euthanasia by the back door

Please write to Peers and ask them to oppose euthanasia by the back door.

The Coroners and Justice (C&J) Bill will be debated in the House of Lords on 18 May at its Second Reading. Amendments will be debated subsequently at the Committee and Report Stages in the following weeks. The purpose of writing to Peers, is to urge them, if they are able, both to speak against and also to vote against any amendments to the Bill aimed at legalising assisted suicide.

When the Bill was before the Commons recently, attempts were made by the euthanasia lobby to hijack it in order to legalise assistance with suicide. They will almost certainly try the same tactics when the Bill is passing through the Lords – they are already asking their supporters to write to Peers urging them to support amendments to the Bill to allow assisted suicide. It is important therefore that Peers should understand that at least as many people feel strongly that assistance with suicide should not be legalised.

Please write therefore to make your views known. At the bottom of this page you will find links to further pages telling you how to write to or email individual peers. We have deliberately excluded from the list those peers who are known to support assisted suicide already and suggest you choose the two to three peers with surnames closest to your own. The priority is to ensure that those who are opposed to assisted suicide, or whose views are not known, are present to vote.

While the subject of euthanasia raises strong passions (on both sides of the debate), it is important that letters to Peers should be calm and reasoned: intemperate and emotional letters can often be counterproductive. While many people also have religious reasons for opposing a change in the law, it is important to highlight also the many secular objections to legalising assisted suicide, in particular the risks to public safety that such a change in the law would bring. Short letters are more likely to be read than long ones. If you work in the health care field or otherwise have personal experience that supports your position, do say so.

The following sections summarise what the C&J Bill is trying to do and how the euthanasia lobby are trying to hijack it; and they provide some suggested points to make in writing to Peers.

What the C&J Bill is about

The C&J Bill covers a very wide range of issues. One of its aims is to amend the 1961 Suicide Act to make clear that the offence of assisting suicide applies to the internet and the media as much as to individuals. It therefore proposes to introduce an offence of 'encouraging or assisting suicide'. This is a responsible measure, which reflects concern over the influence of suicide websites in inciting young and other vulnerable people to take their own lives.

The euthanasia lobby, however, see this opening up of the Suicide Act as an opportunity to change the law by stealth to allow assisted suicide as a form of euthanasia. They claim they support a ban on encouraging suicide but not on assisting it. They are trying to draw a distinction between malicious encouragement of suicide and compassionate assistance with it. One tactic they employed in the Commons, which they may well try again, is to try and amend the Bill so that it allows assistance to be given to people to go abroad (eg to Switzerland) to commit suicide. This would, of course, be just a stepping stone to an assisted suicide law here in Britain.

Why the C&J Bill should not be amended to legalise assisted suicide

Please set out your views in your own words. However, here are some of the main objections to amending the C&J Bill to legalise assistance with suicide. It is better to make one or two points well than try to cover the whole field:

- The Government is seeking to make illegal 'acts capable of encouraging or assisting suicide'. But making assistance with suicide easier for some people is itself tantamount to encouraging the act. The two positions contradict each other.

- Legalising assistance with suicide would represent a major change in the criminal law. If Parliament wishes to consider such a change, it should do so on the basis of a Bill devoted specifically to the subject, not as one of hundreds of amendments to a Bill covering a wide range of other issues.

- Some people are trying to argue that there is a distinction between malicious encouragement of suicide and compassionate assistance with the act. But these are just the extremes of the spectrum. Very few acts of assisted suicide fall into either of these two camps. Most people who might be minded seek assistance with suicide fall between these two extremes – eg the elderly parent who might ask for it in order not to be a burden on the family. These would be the people most put at risk by a change in the law.

- Some people have suggested that the Bill should be amended to allow assistance to be given with suicides abroad – eg at the Dignitas suicide facility in Switzerland. But it is clear, most recently from a BBC Radio 4 programme, that Dignitas's founder and manager regards suicide as an end in itself – he actually described suicide to the BBC as 'a marvellous possibility for a human being' – and that he has little concept of safeguards. Such an amendment would put many Britons at the mercy of such suicide organisations.

- Those who want to amend the Coroners and Justice Bill to allow assistance with suicide are simply trying to legalise euthanasia by the back door. They have failed three times to persuade the House of Lords to legalise euthanasia, and now they are trying another tack – by exploiting for their own purposes a much-needed tightening of the Suicide Act. Amending the C&J Bill to allow assisted suicide is seen by them simply as a stepping stone to a more wide-raging change in the law.

- The law as its stands is perfectly clear – it is illegal to assist suicide full stop. And it works – very few cases occur. But the law is also able to show compassion in appropriate cases. If it is clear that there has been no coercion and that assistance has been minimal and given after careful reflection and persistent requests, prosecutions are usually not brought – as in the handful of Swiss cases in the last few years. But we need to preserve the law's deterrent effect to prevent abuse of vulnerable people.

- We are constantly told that there is a rising tide of people going to Switzerland for assisted suicide and that their relatives are fearful of prosecution. This simply isn't true. Less than 1 in 30,000 Britons who have died in the last five years have done so via a Swiss-style suicide, and the case law is such that anyone giving assistance in such cases knows the conditions under which he or she will or will not be prosecuted.

- The Court of Appeal recognised the dangers recently of legalising assistance with suicide. In its Judgment on the case of Debbie Purdy, it commented that 'not all cases of assisted suicide represent the final act or acts of love or the culmination of a lifelong loving relationship'. We should heed these words and not allow media hype over a handful of high-profile suicides to blind us to the dangers of abuse to much larger numbers from changing the law.

- Lord Carlile has warned recently: 'Don't imagine that, if assisting suicides were to be legalised, we would see the same number and type of cases as we do now. Take away the deterrent effect of the law, and we could expect to see more cases, many of them with evidence of serious abuse. It's a dangerous road down which we should not go'.

How to write to Peers

We suggest you include the following:

1. Say that you are concerned that attempts will be made in the next few weeks to amend the Coroners and Justice Bill to allow assisted suicide
2. Give no more than two to three arguments from above as to why you oppose such amendments
3. Mention any personal experience you have that supports your case
4. Urge them to vote (and perhaps speak) against any assisted suicide amendments

Links to the list of peers names and contact details

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