The Prime Minister will not support a controversial Bill to legalise assisted suicide, according to Downing Street sources.
Boris Johnson reviewed arguments for and against the Assisted Dying Bill of Baroness Meacher during his summer break and decided that he would not back a change in the law to allow doctors to assist in the suicides of terminally ill patients.
The revelations in the Daily Telegraph represent a blow to the well-financed and highly-organised campaign of Dignity in Dying, a group formerly known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
They suggest that the Government may not grant sufficient time for the Bill to progress through the Houses of Parliament.
But the positions of Mr Johnson and Sajid Javid, who has also indicated that he will not support the Bill, does not necessarily mean that its progress will be halted.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are considered to be issues of conscience upon which MPs and peers are given a free vote.
The Bill will be debated for the first time on Friday October 22 when it will receive its Second Reading in the House of Lords.
“This is an extremely sensitive and personal issue,” a government spokesman said. “The Government’s position has always been that it is a matter of individual conscience and therefore for Parliament to decide on.
“Parliament has debated this issue on several occasions and as things stand the will of Parliament is that there should be no change to the law.”
In 2014 Mr Johnson wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph in which he asserted that assisted suicide was an idea “whose time has come”.
But he voted against the assisted suicide Bill of Labour MP Rob Marris when it was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons the following year.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has voted in support of assisted suicide and the Liberal Democrat Party also in favour of changing the law. In Scotland Liam McArthur, a Lib Dem MSP, has introduced an assisted dying Bill which is now undergoing its public consultation phase.
Several Conservative politicians spoke against assisted suicide at a fringe event of the Party conference in Manchester last week.
Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, said: “Our laws prohibiting assisted suicide and euthanasia exist in this country to protect those who are sick, elderly, depressed or disabled from feeling obliged to end their lives.
“Our laws protect against exploitation and coercion and act as a powerful deterrent to would-be abusers.
“The law is an effective deterrent to those with malicious or self-interested motives. It protects against the abuse of disabled, sick, frail and elderly people.
“It is a situation which we want to remain. We have a culture here which is about caring and respecting people at the end of life and not killing them.
“We have to keep the protections which have stopped the terminally ill and the disabled from being treated differently from the rest of us.”
The event in Manchester was also addressed by Sir Edward Leigh, the MP for Gainsborough and a Catholic, who that any safeguards attached to the Meacher Bill will soon prove “absolutely worthless” and that assisted suicide or euthanasia would eventually be practised routinely and effectively on demand.
Sir Edward said: “I give you this prediction and I know I am right – within five years of this Bill being passed – when and if it is passed – there will be at least 200,000 thousand assisted deaths every year just as there are 200,000 abortions every year.
“I think there will be huge numbers. I see with abortions the doctors already bulk-sign documents. There are no controls whatsoever – any control you put on this is absolutely worthless.
Devizes MP Danny Kruger, the co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well told the meeting that the Meacher Bill represented a “profound challenge” for “our whole civilisation” because the laws and traditions threatened by assisted suicide and euthanasia formed a crucial “bulwark against tyranny and the absolute devastation of our society”.
The Meacher Bill seeks to allow assisted suicide for terminally ill patients considered as having only six months left to live, with the consent of two doctors and a High Court judge.
Opponents argue, however, that such proposed safeguards are symbolic, unworkable and meaningless and will be removed over time, particularly as they are open to legal challenge on grounds of discrimination. They say the new law will serve principally as a beachhead for swingeing and incremental reforms that could lead to full euthanasia.
The Catholic bishops have written to the laity to urge them to actively oppose the Bill by writing to peers and MPs and asking them to speak and vote against it.
From Thursday they will be asked to join a novena – nine days of prayer – at the intercession of Pope St John Paul II.
It will conclude on the feast of the Polish pope, a passionate advocate of the right to life, which coincides with the Lords debate of the Meacher Bill.
The Novena Prayer is as follows:
Merciful God, we pray with thanks and gratitude for the great spiritual gift of Saint John Paul II’s apostolic life and mission. Through his heavenly intercession we ask that the ‘Assisted Dying’ Bill be defeated and that the infinite worth of each human person is upheld through proper investment in palliative care. Grant also that we may grow in love for You and proclaim boldly the love of Jesus Christ to all people. Through Christ, Our Lord. Amen
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