Britain’s House of Lords voted on March 17 to reject an amendment to a health care reform bill which would advanced the cause of legalizing assisted suicide in England and Wales.
The amendment, which was defeated by a vote of 179-145, was the 12th time in 25 years that assisted suicide legislation has been defeated when it has come before the British Parliament.
A victory for the vulnerable
The assisted suicide amendment would have required the government to introduce legislation “to permit terminally ill, mentally competent adults legally to end their own lives with medical assistance” within a year of the bill becoming law.
Under the 1961 Suicide Act, those convicted of being involved in an assisted suicide may face up to 14 years in jail.
Nathan Stilwell of Humanists UK, a supporter of the amendment, said the vote “robs those who need an assisted death of the choice, dignity, and autonomy as to when to end their lives.”
“Allowing people to choose the manner and moment of their own death is the hallmark of a compassionate society and should be a basic right,” he said.
There is another Assisted Dying Bill making its way through Parliament, but observers note that because the Government does not support it, it will probably not come to a vote.
Faith groups united against assisted suicide legislation
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has been a vocal opponent of assisted suicide legislation. Last fall, Bishop John Sherrington, Lead Bishop for Life Issues for the Bishops’ Conference, thanked Catholics for writing to peers and praying that an Assisted Dying Bill might be defeated.
“The Catholic Church is clear that we can never assist in taking the life of another, even if they request it. All life is sacred from conception until natural death, and we reiterate our call for investment in high quality palliative care. Our call is one for assistance in living and not assistance in committing suicide,” he wrote.
Other faith leaders have joined the Catholic Church in opposition to assisted suicide legislation. Last October, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis signed a joint letter with Cardinal Vincent Nichols expressing their “profound disquiet” over the Assisted Dying Bill.