Health and Care Bill: Bishop of Carlisle raises concerns on assisted dying

On 26th January 2022, the House of Lords debated the Health and Care Bill in committee. The Bishop of Carlisle spoke on issues of assisted dying contained in amendments to the bill:

The Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, I recognise and respect the integrity and passion that underlie Amendment 297. However, I rise to agree wholeheartedly and briefly with those noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have already expressed their significant reservations about it.

There are two problems in particular with that amendment. The first has to do with the many contentious arguments for and against any legislation permitting assisted dying, some of which have already been mentioned. Tempting though it is to rehearse some more of those, I am conscious not only of the time but of the fact that they have already been presented recently and at length, as we have been reminded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, at Second Reading of the Assisted Dying Bill here in your Lordships’ House. The ongoing process of that Bill, however slow it may be, should not be undermined. We have also been assured that this is not primarily what Amendment 297 is all about. I might add that the terminology of that amendment is unhelpfully vague. “Vague” is a word that has already been used more than once in the debate today. For instance, we might ask exactly what is meant by “terminally ill” or “medical assistance”.

The second problem, which has already been persuasively argued, concerns the attempted use of this Health and Care Bill potentially, if not directly, to change the law on assisted dying. The proper place for any amendment of this kind should be Committee on the Assisted Dying Bill, not Committee on this Bill, which would be subverted were this amendment to be accepted.

With regard to Amendment 203 in this group, whether or not it is deliberately linked, it is evidently concerned to address the holistic needs of those approaching the end of their lives, and that includes, of course, talking about death. That is something that we would all wish to encourage. However, there is again an issue of vagueness in the amendment, as in Amendment 297. For example,

“wishes and preferences for the end of their life”

could include almost anything, from repeated albeit futile chemotherapy, through bucket list wishes, to assisted suicide. Who decides, and how, that someone lacks capacity for engaging in a conversation about their holistic needs? Who is a “relevant person”, as we have just been reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay? Then, in proposed new paragraph (c), what does

“having regard to the needs and preferences recorded in such conversations”

actually entail?

Most of what is proposed in the amendment is already covered in End of Life Care for Adults: Service Delivery, NICE guideline NG142, which was published on 16 October 2019. Perhaps it would be simpler just to require healthcare professionals to meet the requirements of that guideline, which would address the heart of the amendment’s stated, and laudable, objective.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Walmsley (LD): I have one other point. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle talked about vagueness. I think the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has been deliberately vague, because it is for the draft Bill to be specific. That is important because we need something very specific to discuss, with specific powers and safeguards that Parliament has put in. Without that, we would have all the fear that we have around the country, much of which has been expressed in our inboxes in these last few weeks. People are afraid of what might be in the Bill and what Parliament might pass, and only if we have a specific set of proposals in front of us can we amend it to put in the proper safeguards. Parliament can then decide, and people can take their view about it. I think that will take away a lot of the fears of people who believe that there will be no safeguards, because I am convinced that this Parliament would put in proper safeguards. If it did not, a lot of noble Lords would suggest some that jolly well should be there, and rightly so. For those reasons, I hope the Minister will consider the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.

%d bloggers like this: