Intended for healthcare professionals


Assisted suicide: the fight goes on

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 16 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2868
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. 1BMJ
  1. ClareDyer{at}

    Calls for those who accompany people abroad for assisted suicide to be immune from prosecution were defeated in the House of Lords this month. Clare Dyer talks to Lord Falconer, who proposed the change in the law

    You’re a peer with a cause close to your heart. A legislative opportunity arises to tack on an amendment to a bill coming from the Commons to the House of Lords. Who better to ask to put it down than someone who until two years ago headed the justice system as lord high chancellor of Great Britain?

    It was his good friend, fellow Labour peer, former health minister, and former leader of the House of Lords, Margaret Jay, says Charlie Falconer, who suggested that he might table the amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill. The amendment, which she co-sponsored, would give those who accompany loved ones abroad for assisted suicide immunity from prosecution.1 After a highly emotive debate, it was defeated this month by 194 votes to 141.2 But far from giving up, Lord Falconer is considering a comeback as soon as October or November, this time via a private member’s bill.

    Strong and polarised views

    The matter of assisted dying attracts strong and polarised views, and Falconer was not previously known to be in either camp. It would have been inappropriate, he points out, to express a view while he was still in government. Now that he has gone back to legal practice he is free to speak his mind.

    Lady Jay, who was leader of the House of Lords under Tony Blair when Falconer was lord chancellor, was the “most significant” influence on his decision to put forward the amendment, but he also spoke to Mary Warnock, the philosopher and crossbench peer, which is a specialist position not allied to a political …

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