From Covid to COP, tax hikes to triple locks, Boris Johnson's problems are piling up. But now it seems the noble lordships in the Upper House could be about to give him another headache too: a looming crunch clash on the issue of assisted suicide. The House of Lords – where the average age of membership is 70 – will shortly be debating a private members' bill by Baroness Meacher, the president of the Dignity in Dying campaign.
Meacher's bill would allow terminally ill patients in their last six months of life to end their own lives with the permission of two doctors and a judge. The legislation had its first reading back in May and will shortly be having its second now that Parliament has returned. It is the fifth time that a bill has been introduced to Parliament on the issue in seven years. The battle lines are now already drawn: on the pro-legalisation side is Meacher and Dignity in Dying; on the other is the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dying Well.
The latter group is fronted by former Cameron speechwriter Danny Kruger, one of the more high profile southern Tories of the 2019 MP intake. Launching the APPG in April, Kruger took aim at the 'assisted suicide lobby' writing that 'once you have conceded, legally, the right of some people to request official help to kill themselves, that right quickly becomes universal.'
Intriguingly though such arguments appear not to have been heeded at home. Kruger's mother, the celebrity chef Prue Leith, is one of Dignity in Dying's most high-profile supporters, spearheading the launch of the sister branch in Scotland in April to encourage Holyrood candidates to back legalisation. The Great British Bake Off star has spoken candidly before about the impact of her brother David's death from bone cancer and the inhumanity of denying the terminally ill the right to end their life.
If the legislation does pass the Lords, it will be left to the Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg to schedule time in the parliamentary timetable for the Commons. If that were to arise, Steerpike wonders how the Somerset MP would wrestle with his Christian conscience, given his staunch opposition to euthanasia in the past. As he told the Commons back when the issue was debated in 2012: 'I start as a Catholic and I believe that human life is sacred.'
Steerpike awaits with interest to see how this one pans out.