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UK House of Lords rejects assisted suicide measure

[JURIST] The UK House of Lords [official website] on Tuesday rejected a proposed amendment [press release] that would have barred the prosecution of those who go abroad to help others commit assisted suicide. The proposed provision of the Coroners and Justice Bill [materials], which covered "acts not capable of encouraging or assisting suicide," was rejected by a 141-194 vote [vote text] during a line-by-line examination of the bill. Lord Falconer introduced the measure, which called for a waiver of the Suicide Act 1961 [text] if two doctors confirm that the person seeking suicide is terminally ill and competent enough to make a decision and if the person to makes a declaration of intent to seek an assisted suicide abroad. The provision would have amended the Suicide Act to account for such exceptions to the possible 14-year prison sentence imposed by the law for assisting, aiding, abetting, counseling, or procuring an assisted suicide. Dignity in Dying [advocacy website] CEO Sarah Wootton said [press release] that the group would "continue to fight for something that so many others feel very passionately about," calling for allowances "to allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults to make important life decisions for themselves." The House of Lords will continue examining the Coroners and Justice Bill, which was already passed by the House of Commons and contains provisions relating to coroners, criminal law, infanticide, suicide, child pornography, sentencing, legal aid, and other issues.

Physician assisted suicide is a highly contested issue in Europe and other parts of the world. Many Britons have reportedly gone to the Dignitas clinic [website, in German] in Switzerland to obtain assisted suicides. In February, the England and Wales Court of Appeals [official website] refused to clarify the ban on assisted suicide at the request of a British woman [JURIST report] who feared legal repercussions for her husband if he accompanied her to a different country to obtain an assisted suicide. Last year, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] spoke out against laws allowing assisted suicide [BBC report], saying that he would not create laws that "put pressure on people to end their lives." Also last year, Luxembourg came close to passing a bill [JURIST report] to legalize assisted suicide but the measure was not approved by monarch Grand Duke Henri. Henri's veto prompted the Luxembourg Chamber of Deputies to amend the constitution [JURIST report] to eliminate the requirement that the Grand Duke approve of all legislation. In 2006, the House of Lords set aside a bill to legalize assisted suicide following opposition by physician groups [JURIST reports]. Euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands [BBC report] in 2001, and Belgium followed suit [JURIST report] in 2002.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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