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The minister responsible for care for elderly and disabled people has backed plans to legalise assisted dying.
Liberal Democrat Care Minister Norman Lamb said that the existing system was “invidious” because it was not clear if someone who assisted a suicide would be prosecuted or not.
He made his comments on the same day that The Telegraph reported that MPs and peers would be given a free vote on the issue.
The Church, which opposes assisted dying, is due to step up its campaign against its legalisation. In the coming weeks the bishops of England and Wales are due to send every parish apologetics leaflets titled Sense and Nonsense on ‘Assisted Dying’, explaining the Church’s opposition to it.
Under the law as it stands, anyone acting on the will of a dying person commits a crime if they help them to end their life, but they are unlikely to face charges.
Mr Lamb told Sky News yesterday: “Can we really be comfortable with a situation where people, acting out of compassion for a loved one who is dying, are left uncertain as to whether they will face prosecution?”
A bill that seeks to legalise assisted dying is due to come before Parliament in the next few months. The bill, which was tabled by former Labour Chancellor Lord Falconer, is currently with the House of Lords.
Mr Lamb said he was convinced that “the state should not stand in the way” of assisted dying, as long as safeguards were in place.
Both Prime Minister David Cameron and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, have said they personally oppose a change in the law.
More than three-quarters of GPs – 77 per cent – oppose legalising assisted dying, according to a consultation carried out by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) last month. The research, which RCGP said was “one of the most comprehensive consultations of its members”, found that most respondents are concerned that a change in the law could damage the doctor-patient relationship and put the most vulnerable groups in society at risk.
According to the consultation, most GPs also fear that legalising assisted dying could reduce investment in palliative care and treatments for terminal illnesses, and lead to a "slippery slope" whereby it would only be a matter of time before assisted dying was extended to those who could not consent due to reasons of incapacity and the severely disabled. The GPs feared it would be impossible to implement assisted dying legislation without eliminating the possibility that patients may be in some way coerced into the decision to die.