Robert Halfon (Harlow, Conservative)
My argument is that the guidelines are too flexible, and that Parliament has not had a decision about the matter. As I said, Parliament has had no say in designing the DPP’s guidance, and that is not how law should be made in Britain. We are simply being asked to rubber-stamp what the DPP has said. This matters because there is a risk of abuse—it could become a lawyer’s charter—and because of the kind of country it would make us.
Sadly, there is a real example in history of how the move to assisted dying has led to something much worse. In 1920, the eminent German medics, Binding and Hoche, argued strenuously that doctors should be protected against prosecution for assisted dying. Their research was popularised during the Weimar era, and by 1932 created the intellectual climate that allowed Prussia to remove support for the disabled and terminally ill. In 1939, we know that Hitler issued orders that doctors be commissioned to grant a mercy death to patients who were judged to be incurably sick. A small step perhaps; each step along this path was a small step. Two years later we know that 70,000 patients from Germany’s hospitals had been killed. We know that in 1941, the gas chambers were moved from the hospitals where they had been used for euthanasia to the death camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka. Nurses, doctors and technicians followed the equipment. That is why I am worried about a conveyor belt. Of course, we live in a benign country, and we think that such things would never happen, but it is precisely because we are a benign country that we have to put in every safeguard to ensure that it does never happen.
I argue that the DPP’s guidance can become a lawyer’s charter. Who will define “compassion” in the DPP’s guidance? What is “minor encouragement”? How will we know the victim’s story if only the suspect can give evidence. Moves towards assisted dying would seriously damage our national character. As the National Review reported, a 1991 Dutch survey showed that 2% of all deaths in the Netherlands were caused by deliberate euthanasia, but 10% were from euthanasia by neglect, omission or other forms of poor care.
This is the wrong debate. We should be supporting palliative care, and I am proud to be very involved with my local hospice, St Clare’s. We should remember that about 40% of hospice in-patients return home and 66% of hospice at-home patients die in their own homes.
As a society, we are beginning to devalue human life, whether it is on television, in computer games or in other forms. I accept that we give people choice, but we are not talking about going to a supermarket and choosing a brand of chocolate. Harold Shipman was mentioned earlier, and he got away with what he did because human
beings became digits on a computer: form filling. I wonder whether he would have got away with what he did if we did not devalue human life in the way we do.