LONDON – The Assisted-Dying Bill was dramatically blocked by the U.K. House of Lords on Friday after peers backed an amendment to delay the controversial bill for six months by 48 votes.
The amazing development comes after a petition was presented to 10 Downing Street on Friday listing more than 100,000 signatures of those opposing the assisted-dying bill. The signatures, gathered by Care Not Killing (CNK) within just four weeks, demand an end to the proposals laid down in Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, which proposes that doctors be given the right to prescribe drugs for a terminally ill person to end their own life.
Though the bill has been blocked, Lord Joffe has vowed to reintroduce his bill at a later date. The government said it would not block a further hearing of the bill, according to the BBC.
CNK campaign director Dr Peter Saunders said: "We believe that this is a very bad bill and one that would create great problems for old and sick patients and the medical and nursing professions. Over the past few days as the public has become aware of the issues at stake, people have been signing our petition opposing the bill at the rate of 10,000 a day. More than 100,000 people have signed the petition we will present to Downing Street today (Friday).
"Against this background of popular dissent, we believe it is right that the House of Lords should pass judgment by holding a vote at second reading and halting moves to legalize euthanasia in the U.K. It is time to take a stand against this grossly misguided measure."
In the Lords, peers took part in a passionate debate on whether it was right or not to allow the terminally ill to be given killer drugs.
Lord Joffe told the house that patients should not have to face unbearable suffering "for the good of society as a whole."
However, Lord Carlile, the Liberal Democrat peer said, "Everybody in your Lordships' house knows that those who are moving this bill have the clear intention of it leading to voluntary euthanasia. That has always been the aim and it remains the aim now."
A palliative care expert, Lady Finlay, commented, "Let us get on with working for patients to live as well as possible until a naturally dignified death, not taken up with becoming complicit with suicide."
Also opposing the bill in the Lords was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. He has said that the cost of passing through such a bill would be "disproportionately high to the benefit to certain individuals".
Dr Williams, the spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion’s 70-million members, told BBC Radio 4 that there was now a very broad consensus against the proposal that extended way beyond the Church and religion.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, expressed his worry that the proposals could lead to great pressure being placed on vulnerable people to take their own lives.
While the heated debate continued in the House of Lords, Christians joined human rights and disability activists, as well as medical practitioners in demonstrating against the bill outside Parliament.
Speaking to U.K.-based Christian Today at the rally, Bishop Scott-Joynt, the Bishop of Winchester commended the churches for the "great deal" of work they had done to campaign against the bill, adding that he was "entirely on board with" the work of the Roman Catholic Church in particular.
He criticized support for assisted dying saying, "Those who are in favor of the bill would say they value life so much they don’t believe anybody should be forced to live it when it ceases to be life as they understand it, but I don’t think that really follows.
"And I do think it’s a highly elitist position and a position that disregards the vast majority of people who will be made vulnerable by the bill," he added.
While he was skeptical that the "unworkable" Bill would actually become law, he urged campaigners to keep up the protest.
"The trouble is that the more time that’s spent on it (the bill), the more there is a kind of impression given that these are things to go on pursuing and keep thinking about, which is why I think there is everything to be said for trying to stop it today," he said.
Bishop Scott-Joynt also warned that the bill would "lead to further attempts at legislation to broaden it and all kinds of personal and legal difficulties".
Mark Slattery, of the charity Dignity in Dying, said the campaign to introduce an assisted dying bill would continue.
"The bill has faced the onslaught from the biggest political campaign in Church history, but public support for it has held firm. The bill will be back and the campaign has not stopped."
Julia Millington of the ProLife Alliance was also delighted with the Lords' decision. "Legislation that permits doctors to assist in suicide, fundamentally changes the role of doctor from someone who cures or cares to a killer," she said.
"We will continue to resist any change in the law."
Gospel Herald Correspondents Daniel Blake and Maria Mackay in London contributed to this report.