Members of the House of Lords who are attempting to force the Government to introduce legislation on assisted suicide within a year of the Health and Care Bill becoming law have been accused of hijacking a health bill intended for other purposes.
Lord Moore of Etchingham and Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie have both spoken out against the assisted suicide amendment that has been added to the Government’s Health and Care Bill. The purpose of the Bill, according to Baroness Fraser, is “to reform the delivery and organisation of health services in England”.
However, writing in the Telegraph and the Times respectively, both Lord Moore and Baroness Fraser have argued that Lord Forsyth’s assisted suicide amendment is an attempt to “hijack” the Health and Care Bill.
Lord Moore argues that “assisted suicide is, in terms of law, not a health and care issue: its introduction would require a change in the criminal law”, with Baroness Fraser pointing out that this deviation from parliamentary procedure threatens to “set a dangerous precedent” that could “shackle the future business of governments”.
“Unusual” parliamentary procedure
Furthermore, both members of the Lords argue that the assisted suicide amendment represents an “unusual” and “strange” approach to legislation insofar as the issue of assisted suicide is already being debated in the House of Lords in Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill.
Lord Moore said: “There is already an Assisted Dying private members Bill before Parliament. Constitutional convention frowns on trying the same thing twice at the same time. It confuses everything and is unfair to other legislation”.
“I am sorry that Lord Forsyth, one of the very best performers in the Lords, is pursuing the issue in this way. If he felt differently about the subject, I can imagine him launching a brilliant forensic assault on his own method”.
“Matters such as assisted suicide are rightly classified as questions of conscience. If they can be slipped into government bills, then no legislation is safe from pressure-group hijack”.
Baroness Fraser admits to looking forward to further debate on assisted suicide in Scotland as well as England and Wales, but hopes “that the Government will not allow themselves to be distracted by Lord Forsyth’s amendment”, especially since “we already have [an assisted suicide bill] before parliament; the one introduced by Baroness Meacher”.
Lord Forsyth’s amendment is likely to be debated later this week or early next week. Were the amendment to be accepted, it would mean that the Government would be forced to draft assisted suicide legislation to be debated in the House of Commons. If successful, it is likely that Baroness Meacher would abandon her Bill as its ultimate aim, to legalise assisted suicide, would be achieved.
Parliament has debated assisted suicide before
Parliament last voted on assisted suicide in 2015. Legislation to make it legal was defeated by 330 votes to 118. There have been a number of attempts to legalise assisted suicide through the courts – all of which have failed. In 2019, the High Court said the courts were not the place to decide moral issues. In a ruling concerning a man with motor neurone disease who wanted to be assisted in suicide, the court said: “In our judgement the courts are not the venue for arguments that have failed to convince parliament”.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “The criticisms of Lord Forsyth’s amendment are absolutely right; what is being proposed is very similar to Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill, which has already received Second Reading and awaits Committee Stage in this parliamentary session. As such, it appears constitutionally improper for such an amendment to be inserted into the Health and Care Bill given that parliamentary practice recommends that “no bill of the same substance be brought in the same session”.
“Aside from the constitutional impropriety of Lord Forsyth’s amendment, the attempt to introduce assisted suicide is entirely unnecessary and disproportionate as there is no place for assisted suicide in end-of-life care, and experience from overseas shows that no assisted suicide law could ever be a safe law”.