In response to a question from assisted suicide campaigner Baroness Meacher, justice minister Lord Keen of Elie told the House of Lords on Thursday 23 May:
'the High Court found that Parliament's decision not to change the current law strikes a fair balance between the interests of the wider community and those of people who are terminally ill and wish to be helped to die... the Government do not plan to change the law at this time... [and] have always taken the view that this is a matter of individual conscience and for Parliament to decide, rather than one of government policy.'
Theresa May announced her resignation as Conservative leader (effective Friday 7 June) on Friday 24 May, and while the evidence that convinced MPs to reject assisted suicide by a massive 330-118 in 2015 is no less convincing now, 'the Government' Lord Keen referred to will soon come to an end when the MP elected Conservative leader replaces Mrs May as Prime Minister later in the summer. Dr Gordon Macdonald, CNK's Chief Executive, has written to all the Conservative leadership candidates to ask their views on assisted suicide.
The Conservative Party will select its next leader - and our next Prime Minister - by means of exhaustive ballots of MPs until two candidates remain to be voted on by Conservative Party members.
CNK is intervening in a case which is going before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Earlier this year, the ECtHR agreed to consider the case of Tom Mortier of Belgium. Oncologist Wim Distelmans euthanised Godelieva De Troyer, Mortier's mother, because of 'untreatable depression' in April 2012 - she was not terminally ill. De Troyer's doctor of more than 20 years had denied her request to be euthanized in September 2011, but after a €2,500 donation to Life End Information Forum - an organization Distelmans co-founded - he carried out her request to die, with Tom and other relatives not informed till after she was dead. Distelmans is, incredibly, also co-president of Belgium's Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia, which is responsible for oversight.
The findings of the ECtHR are taken into account when British courts consider legal challenges such as those of Nicklinson, Lamb and Conway - in which CNK intervened successfully - and as the UK is a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), on which such challenges are invariably based, new interpretations are important.
For these reasons, CNK sought and received permission to make submissions in Tom's case, and we have done so, focussing on the Belgian law's incompatibility with Article 2 of the ECHR (right to life). We'll keep you abreast of further developments.
One of Care Not Killing's guiding aims is to influence the balance of public opinion against any further weakening of the law; that necessarily involves holding to account media outlets with a duty to report on this debate impartially. The Times recently reported:
'Gordon Macdonald, Chief Executive of Care Not Killing, contacted the BBC with what he called several "examples of bias" in "clear breach" of regulator Ofcom's rules.
'"It has failed to give equal, or even proportionate, coverage to those who oppose facilitating the suicides of terminally ill and disabled people as standard practice," he said.'
Care Not Killing submitted a comprehensive complaint citing past inadequacies for the Director-General's attention.
Lord Sumption, one of nine Supreme Court justices who heard the appeals of Tony Nicklinson (deceased), Paul Lamb and Martin in 2013, responded to a question from assisted suicide campaigner Ann Whaley after his recent Radio 4 Reith Lecture, addressing first her claims about public opinion:
'The problem is that this is a major moral issue and it is an issue on which, although you say that the public is overwhelmingly in favour, a lot of polling evidence suggests that that rather depends on the degree of detail which goes into the asking of the question.'
He then refuted her insistence that the current law was broken:
'We need to have a law against it in order to prevent abuse'.
Doctors.net.uk reported recently:
'Public ignorance about dying increases fears about the pain and indignity associated with the event... Large numbers of people get information from fictional events... according to a survey conducted for the Academy of Medical Sciences.'
'This leads to a lack of understanding that death can be "gentle, peaceful and pain-free", according to Professor Dame Lesley Fallowfield, professor of psycho-oncology at Sussex University. The survey found that 60% of people said they knew "just a little" about what happens at the end of life.'
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