GP warning as Lords vote brings assisted dying closer

Two thirds of peers have voted for the Assisted Dying Bill to become law in a move described as a landmark victory, but GPs warn changing the law could undermine patients' trust in doctors.

Westminster: Lords back assisted dying bill (Photo: Robin Hammond)
Westminster: Lords back assisted dying bill (Photo: Robin Hammond)

The vote on Friday puts the proposed bill one step closer to becoming law, despite longstanding opposition from the BMA, the RCGP and other leading doctors.

Almost two thirds (60%) of peers voted in favour of Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill during the second day of its committee stage in the House of Lords, meaning it has now progressed further than any legislation on the issue preceding it.

Should the bill become law, it will allow terminally ill, mentally competent patients to choose the time and manner of their death, with the approval of their doctors.

But senior GPs have warned strongly against giving GPs the power to assist patients in ending their life. GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey told GP last year: ‘The doctor-patient relationship is paramount, and we mustn’t do anything to place any doubt in the patient’s mind that the doctor is always working in their best interest.'

The bill must advance to the report stage and a third reading before heading to the House of Commons for further readings. Only after being thoroughly debated in the House of Commons and achieving royal assent can the Bill become law.

Turnaround of support

The last time peers discussed assisted dying (Lord Joffe’s Bill in 2006), 59% of the House of Lords were opposed to the bill. Friday’s vote represents a huge turnaround in support, campaign group Dignity in Dying said.

Sarah Wootton, the group’s chief executive, said: ‘Today’s historic vote shows there is now parliamentary support for a change in the law to give terminally ill people greater choice and control over the dying process.

‘This reflects the fact that most members of the House of Lords are now in agreement with the overwhelming majority of the public that the current law is unsustainable and cruel to those dying people suffering against their wishes at the end of life.’

Retired Edinburgh GP Dr Shiona Mackie previously told GP that she had added her support to a similar Assisted Suicide Bill in Scotland, alongside a ’growing number’ of other Scottish doctors. 

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