Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) has challenged measures proposed in the Assisted Dying Bill in a debate last Friday involving a record 130 Peers.
The Bill is a Private Members Bill (PMB) put forward by Lord Falconer of Thornton, a former Lord Chancellor.
If enacted the legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance to end their own lives, applying to those with less than 6 months to live.
During the 10-hour debate Lord Singh said:
“My Lords, the Bill is flawed on many counts. In attempting to show compassion to a few, it neglects due compassion to many thousands of others. It has created immense fear in vulnerable people that they are being seen as a problem by society, with consequent damage to their sense of self-worth. Much has been said about autonomy in this debate—about our right to take decisions about our lives. But all too often it ignores the reality that what we do or omit to do affects others. This narrow view of autonomy is little more than an unhealthy obsession with self, which is considered one of the five deadly sins in Sikh scripture. The reality is that all of us are part of a wider society. What we say or do affects others. Importantly, our attitudes and decisions are influenced by those around us. Relatives, through what they say or omit to say, or simply by not being around, can affect the mood or even the will to live of the vulnerable.”
He added: “The Bill stipulates the need for a “settled” state of mind for those contemplating assisted suicide. A feeling of not being wanted or of being a burden on others can, importantly, tip the balance towards a settled state of mind of not wanting to live. The proposed legislation moves us even further from focusing on enhanced care and compassion for the vulnerable in society. Worse, it can encourage uncaring or greedy relatives to persuade vulnerable people that their lives are not worth living. All of us can at times feel that what Shakespeare called the,“slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, are too much for us. However, it is also true that loving care and compassion can change our mood. This is particularly true for the infirm and vulnerable. Daily reports of abuse of those who cannot care for themselves by family members or in care homes remind us how far we have moved as a society from our duty to help the vulnerable. Sikh teachings remind us that our own sense of well-being lies in devoting time to the well-being of others. It is a sentiment echoed by all major faiths. Near where I live is a new housing development with a large hoarding advertising the development with the words ‘Assisted Living’. My Lords, the need of the hour is not to look to ways of helping people kill themselves in the name of compassion, but to make compassion and concern for the vulnerable, central to life in civilised society.”
Many Hon. Peers endorsed Lord Singh’s sentiments.