Labour peer plans to bring back assisted dying bill to House of Lords

Lord Falconer keen to retable stalled legislation after death of British man at Dignitas clinic in Switzerland

Lord Falconer, the shadow lord chancellor, has said he would like to bring back his failed assisted dying bill after a British businessman travelled to the Swiss clinic Dignitas to end his life.

Falconer, who served as the lord chancellor under Tony Blair, criticised the fact that Jeffrey Spector, 54, had to go abroad for help to end his life after learning his cancer had worsened. Assisted dying is illegal in Britain.

The Labour peer told BBC’s World at One: “I saw the photographs of him having his last meal in Switzerland and I think it’s completely wrong that when someone is terminally ill, they don’t have the option, subject to safeguards, in deciding to take their own life. It’s wrong they have to go to Switzerland to do that.”

Falconer said he would try to bring back his assisted dying bill if he wins a ballot for private members to put forward legislation in the House of Lords. The bill would enable people who had less than six months to live, as confirmed by two doctors, to be given a lethal prescription of drugs. It was discussed by peers in the last parliament but ran out of time for further debate before the election.

Spector’s widow, Elaine, 53, and three daughters, Keleigh, 21, Courtney, 19, and Camryn, 15, said that despite their “difficult and painful time”, they respected his decision.

Spector had told family and friends that as a proud, dignified and independent person he could not face the thought of being paralysed or becoming reliant on his family. His condition deteriorated to such an extent this year that he believed he would soon be completely paralysed. He made an appointment to go to the Dignitas clinic and travelled to Zurich last Wednesday. On Friday, after a final meal with his family, Spector died.

His family said: “While we are in a state of all-consuming grief and miss Jeffrey very much, we also recognise that he is now at peace and away from the fear which surrounded him in the last few weeks of his life. Jeffrey ended his life with dignity and control which was his overwhelming desire.”

He is thought to be one of more than 270 British people who have travelled abroad to die.

If Falconer is not picked for a private members’ bill, it will be up to another peer or MP to try to introduce the legislation.

He said: “Immediately after the Queen’s speech, there is a ballot in the House of Lords for private members’ bills and if my bill is selected then I will bring it forward again. But if it’s not selected, that will make [it] entirely chancy whether or not it’s possible to pursue the bill in the Lords.

“It’s very odd that parliament may be deprived of the opportunity of debating this important issue. Whatever view you take about the issue, I think everybody agrees parliament should be debating it.”

The government is unlikely to pursue the issue on its own as the prime minister has said he is “not convinced that further steps need to be taken”.

David Cameron has also expressed worries about “legalising euthanasia and people might be being pushed into things that they don’t actually want for themselves”, but said he is happy to debate the subject in parliament.


Rowena Mason and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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