Fears for vulnerable if assisted suicide is legalised

A crossbench peer has said she fears vulnerable people will feel under pressure to end their lives if laws on assisted suicide are changed.

Onora Sylvia O'Neill, Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve, issued the warning ahead of her appearance before Lord Falconer's Commission on Assisted Dying today.

According to the Evening Standard, Baroness O'Neill warned that some people could feel under pressure to end their lives out of concern that they were burdening those caring for them.

There was, she said, "no way that we can pass safe legislation that could sufficiently protect vulnerable people."

"I would be most concerned that it didn't lead to people being killed by others under the cloak of assisted suicide when it was not something they had chosen.

She added: "What is realistic about the world is that there are people who are not wholly compassionate and we have to safeguard people from being nudged into making a decision to end their life."

Lord Falconer launched the commission in November to consider whether changes to the law on assisted suicide should be made.

His commission has come under fire over the composition of its members, most of whom either have links to the Dignity in Dying pro-euthanasia group or are known supporters of a change in the law.

Care Not Killing, an anti-euthanasia group whose members include the Christian Medical Fellowship, refused an invitation to give evidence to the commission on the grounds that it was "unnecessary, unbalanced and seriously lacking in transparency".

The launch of the commission follows a historic legal victory by MS sufferer Debbie Purdy to have the law on assisted suicide clarified.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer last year published new guidelines to clarify the rules on assisted suicide in which the onus was shifted away from the person ending their lives to the motives of those assisting them.

Encouraging or assisting suicide remains a criminal offence, carrying a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

Lord Falconer's review is due to end in September.