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Assisted dying bill condemned in House of Lords

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, May 12 (Reuters) A controversial bill to allow doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives was condemned in the House of Lords today as ''morally indefensible.'' The assisted dying bill would let doctors prescribe, but not administer, lethal drugs to patients who are suffering unbearably and have less than six months to live.

The private bill, introduced by human rights lawyer Lord Joffe, is unlikely to become law.

Opponents, including religious leaders and sections of the medical profession, say its provisions could be open to abuse.

Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile told fellow peers at the opening of the debate that the bill was ''morally indefensible''.

''Despite protestations to the contrary, everybody in your Lordships' house knows that those who are moving this bill have the clear intention of it leading to voluntary euthanasia.

''That has always been the aim and it remains the aim now.'' Other opponents include Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks.

The three outlined their objections in a letter to The Times published today.

''Such a bill cannot guarantee that a right to die would not, for society's most vulnerable, become a duty to die,'' they wrote.

Campaigners against the bill say a petition signed by more than 100,000 people demanding an end to attempts to change the law will be handed in at Prime Minister Tony Blair's 10 Downing Street residence.

''We believe that this is a very bad bill and one that would create great problems for old and sick patients and the medical and nursing professions,'' said Peter Saunders, director of the Care not Killing campaign group.

A recent Royal College of Physicians poll showed 73 per cent of its members are against any change in the law to allow assisted suicide by doctors or euthanasia.

But supporters of the bill say doctors should be able to prescribe drugs that a terminally ill person suffering terrible pain could take to end his or her own life.

''Even with the quality of our palliative care, some people will still want this option,'' said Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Dignity in Dying pressure group.

ASSISTED DYING Public opinion on the issue is split.

A poll today for Dignity in Dying showed three-quarters of people are in favour of a change in the law.

Of 1,770 respondents questioned by YouGov for the survey, 76 per cent supported assisted dying as long as safeguards were in place.

But a poll in the Sunday Telegraph last weekend showed 65 per cent of people agreed that if the proposed law change went ahead, ''vulnerable people could feel under pressure to opt for suicide''.

All the political parties are allowing a free vote.

The debate comes four years after the death of one of the most high-profile campaigners for the right to die, Diane Pretty. The motor neurone disease sufferer took her case to the European Court of Human Rights but lost.

REUTERS PR RN1815

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