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Assisted dying: Lord Falconer tables new law as latest cases reach Court of Appeal

Tory peer Lord Falconer has announced that he will table a new bill aimed at legalising assisted suicide for patients with a terminal illness deemed to have fewer than six months to live, as two more cases on the matter come before the Court of Appeal, reports the BBC.

Two men with severe disabilities will this week ask the Court of Appeal for a right to die, in the latest legal battles on the subject of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Paul Lamb, a 58-year-old from Leeds, and another man known only as 'Martin', are both seeking legal routes to allow them to die with the help of a doctor.

Mr Lamb is continuing the case brought last year by locked-in syndrome sufferer Tony Nicklinson. His lawyers will argue that a doctor who helps someone to die by assisting their suicide should be given the legal defence of necessity to any subsequent murder charge.

Mr Lamb was injured in a serious car accident in 1990 and has spent the last 23 years with no function in any of his limbs, requiring round-the-clock care and constant pain relief.

Martin's case is slightly different. He is suffering from 'locked-in syndrome', meaning he has no voluntary control of any muscles in his body apart from his eyes. Awake and alert, Martin is unable to verbally communicate and must have everything done for him by carers.

In response to a string of similar cases last year, the Director of Public Prosecutions Kier Starmer released new guidance for prosecutors on cases of assisted suicide. The guidance states that prosecutions would be unlikely when family members help someone to die out of compassion.

In Martin's case his wife is unwilling to assist him in dying, meaning this new option is unavailable to him. He would like this guidance extended to allow doctors to act in the same way.

Lord Falconer's new law looks unlikely to help either man with long-term disabilities, not least as it faces a tough journey through Parliament. His law would allow those in the last six months of a terminal illness to request help to end their lives.

Critics argue that the law would not pass a public safety test and that introducing such a law threatens the elderly and disabled.

"Lord Falconer is using the emotions generated by hard court cases, but his agenda is very dangerous for disabled and elderly people," said Dr Peter Saunders.

Sources:
Lord Falconer to press on assisted dying law (BBC News)

Right-to-die cases heard at Court of Appeal (BBC News)