- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

LONDON — Britain’s upper house of Parliament, following seven hours of impassioned debate yesterday, blocked a draft law that would give terminally ill people the right to die with medical assistance.

Peers in the House of Lords voted 148 to 100 to delay the second reading of the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill six months, which effectively puts the legislation on the back burner.

Joel Joffe, the peer who introduced the bill to the Lords, says doctors should be able to prescribe drugs that would enable patients with an incurable disease and suffering pain to end their lives.

But religious leaders, charities and health groups have opposed the bill, arguing that killing or helping to kill another human being is wrong.

Opening the discussion, Mr. Joffe noted that the bill was based on a successful system used in Oregon.

Mr. Joffe, a retired human rights lawyer, has already tried several times to create a euthanasia law in Britain. His latest draft offers a watered-down version of legalized euthanasia. It would enable a doctor to give patients a lethal drug but stops short of letting them actually administer the medicine.

The text has yet to be debated in the more powerful lower house, the House of Commons.

The Church of England’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor and Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks oppose any measure to legalize assisted suicide or euthanasia.

“We believe that all life is sacred and God-given, with a value that is inherently not conditional,” they said in a letter to the Times newspaper.

Archbishop Williams, who participated in the parliamentary debate, said religious conviction was not the only reason to reject the proposal.

“To specify, even in the fairly broad terms of this bill, conditions under which it would be both reasonable and legal to end your life, is to say that certain kinds of life are not worth living,” he told the House of Lords.

Assisted suicide is currently illegal in Britain. Anyone convicted of helping another person die could face up to 14 years in prison.

As a result, a few terminally ill patients have traveled to Switzerland, which recognizes their right to die.

A new poll for the campaign group Dignity in Dying found that three-quarters of Britons questioned favored the right-to-die legislation. In contrast, a Royal College of Physicians survey found 73 percent of its members were against legalizing doctor-assisted suicide.

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