20 February 2003
Terminally ill people should be given a greater choice over the end of their lives including the right to ask for help to die, a peer has said.
Lord Joel Joffe - a retired human rights lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela - wants the right to assisted suicide enshrined on the statute book.
Now the crossbench peer is introducing a private members bill in the wake of the Diane Pretty and Reginald Crew cases.
Mr Crew - who suffered from motor neurone disease - had to fly to Switzerland for an assisted death.
Mrs Pretty fought a long, hard battle in the courts for the right to choose the timing of her death but died naturally after her legal fight had failed.
Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying Bill - which has little chance of making it on to the statute book - provides for a competent adult suffering from a terminal disease or a serious, incurable physical illness to request medical assistance to die.
They would have to have two doctors - one a consultant - to confirm their diagnosis.
All the alternatives to assisted suicide would have to be considered including hospice and palliative care.
And a patient would have to make a written statement declaring their wish to die.
That statement would have to witnessed by a solicitor who was satisfied of the patient's mental competence to understand their decision.
Lord Joffe said: "The Diane Pretty and Reginald Crew cases highlighted the pressing need to allow terminally ill competent adults greater choice in the manner of their death.
"This issue has been debated at length in the media and every poll in the last decade shows over 80% public support in favour of changing the law.
"The debate must now be brought into Parliament.
"For public policy reasons the Patient Assisted Dying Bill contains strict safeguards to ensure the vulnerable in society are protected."
In the bill there is provision to allow doctors opposed to the notion of assisted suicide to opt-out on grounds of conscience.
Another clause provides for a "cooling- off" period in the wake of the request to die so a patient can further consider their decision.
A record of every instance of assisted dying would be kept by a monitoring commission.
The Bill is to receive its first reading on Thursday and has the backing of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
Lord Joffe defended Mr Mandela in the 1963 Rivonia trial.