Disabled peer pleads against legalising assisted suicide

Lady Campbell of Surbiton says reform will lead to 'state sanctioned assistant dying'

A disabled peer, who needs a ventilator to help her breathe at night, was heard in silence today when she made an impassioned speech against changing the law to assist euthanasia.

Lady Campbell of Surbiton said suicide reform would lead to "state sanctioned assisted dying" in which doctors would encourage people with disabilities to end their lives.

Campbell, born with spinal muscular atrophy, was speaking out against an attempt by Lord Falconer, the former lord chancellor, to relax the law on assisted dying. His amendment to the coroners and justice bill, which would allow people to help someone who has a terminal illness to travel to a country where assisted suicide is legal, was rejected in a free vote by 194 to 141.

Introducing his amendment, Falconer said such people faced a "legal no-man's land" because the law said they should be prosecuted. But none of the 115 people who have travelled from Britain to help friends and relatives take their own lives in Switzerland had been prosecuted.

Campbell was scathing in response. "By going with this amendment we turn the traffic lights from red to green on state-sanctioned assisted dying, albeit in another country," she said.

"Those of us who know what it is to live with a terminal condition are fearful the tide has already turned against us. If I should ever seek death – and there have been times when my progressive condition challenges me – I want to guarantee that you are with me, supporting my continued life and its value."

She dismissed suggestions that Falconer's amendment would have no impact on disabled people on the grounds that it was aimed to help people with terminal illnesses who wish to die. Under Falconer's amendment, no prosecution would take place if two doctors certify the suicide.

"I tick every box of Lord Falconer's [criteria] to die," she said. "I could go tomorrow and, believe me, I would have no trouble in persuading two doctors. Three years ago two doctors persuaded me it was time for me to go on my way."

She said assisted dying was not supported by disabled people, apart from a small number. Assisted dying was "to abandon hope and to ignore the majority of disabled and terminally ill people".

The peer, who was helped by a colleague to take sips of water during her speech, handed over to another peer to continue with her speech. "If this amendment were to succeed I believe it will place a new and invidious pressure on disabled and terminally ill people to think they are closer to the end of their lives," her speech said.

Campbell speaks openly about her condition. "I am only four stone but when I bring all my junk with me – my ventilator, my ripple bed, my special chair and my medication – I need a truck to allow me to go on holiday," she said last month.


Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent

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