Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton, Labour)
Let me say at the outset that I am prepared to accept the motion tabled by Richard Ottaway, particularly because he indicated that he might be prepared to accept the amendment tabled by Fiona Bruce. I cannot support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend Dame Joan Ruddock, particularly because of the advice from the Minister, which I have received on a previous occasion.
I am vice-chairman of the all-party group on dying well, which is chaired by Baroness Ilora Finlay of Llandaff, who is professor of palliative care at Cardiff university and a former president of the Royal Society of Medicine. I am totally opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia, assisted suicide or assisted dying—whatever one calls it. It is referred to at the moment as assisted dying. I say “at the moment” because over the past few years full-blown and up-front debates on euthanasia have been held in the House of Lords, led by Lord Joffe. The campaign has changed from being one on euthanasia to one on assisted suicide, and it is now known as assisted dying. The trick, so often, is to soften the language throughout the campaign to gain public support. Therein lies a strategy.
I welcome the DPP’s revision of his guidelines for prosecuting in cases of assisted suicide. As we know, this follows a lengthy consultation. The new guidelines are focused more on public safety and, to my mind, on the protection of people with disability and serious illness, who are, as the guidelines say, of equal worth and therefore must have equal protection under the law. I highlight the issue of elder abuse within families and remind the House that not all families are loving or empathetic. It hardly needs to be stated that vulnerabilities such as physical dependence or mental health problems are not a reason for assisting suicide.
Although there is much to welcome in the guidelines, they leave me with some concerns. The use of judgmental aspects on individual cases is inherently problematic. There needs to be complete transparency over decisions to prosecute or not to prosecute. Without this, we will fail to protect the people who care for those who are dying and leave the person who is dependent and ill in a very vulnerable position. The guidelines make it clear that immunity from prosecution is not guaranteed for assistors of suicide. The danger is that the parts of the guidelines that have been published, plus the spin given in the media by those who support assisted dying, could well lead to people getting involved in illegal acts. Having said all that, there is a general welcome for some aspects of the DPP’s guidelines.
In the context of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Congleton, I now put the case for the antidote to assisted suicide. I do so by declaring that two of my grandsons live with serious disabilities. They are brothers, and they have a neurological muscle weakness that is controlled by medication. They are both wheelchair
bound and require one-to-one support at home and in their education. From time to time, they have required life support systems. I do not want them, or any other person living with a disability, to experience pressure in a system whose law suggests that their lives might not be worth living. That important point was made in the Lords debate by Baroness Campbell of Surbiton and others who spoke on behalf of those with disabilities.
As I have said, the antidote to assisted suicide is palliative care for people suffering from terminal illness. I include all types of terminal illness in that. In 2006, I introduced a private Member’s Bill on palliative care for the terminally ill. That is another reason why I support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Congleton, of which I am a signatory. Palliative care is about enhancing quality of life and—