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Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 1:03 pm on 11th September 2015.

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Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change) 1:03 pm, 11th September 2015

I cannot support the Bill and I intend to vote against it. In doing so, let me first recognise the good intent and the compassion of those who support the Bill and who have brought it here today. Their motivations are honourable and I appreciate that considerable numbers of people in this country want these issues to be discussed. Many constituents on both sides of the argument, as I am sure is the case for all Members of the House, have shared incredibly personal stories with me—stories of great courage and of great pain—and I am extremely grateful for that, but I do not believe that the change in the law that is proposed in the Bill is either desirable or necessary.

There is a right to die under UK law. Any of us has the right to refuse further medical treatment in such a way as to bring our lives to a natural end. Furthermore, a person making that decision can usually obtain pain relief to ease their suffering. However, the Bill proposes a fundamental change, for the first time allowing medical practitioners to prescribe drugs that would enable the person actively to end their life. I believe that once we crossed that Rubicon, we would have radically changed our conception of life and of the rights and responsibilities of individuals and of society at large. We would have fundamentally changed the role of the medical profession and we could never truly ensure that there were sufficient safeguards to prevent abuse.

I am sure the House will appreciate that the prospect of doctors legally prescribing fatal doses of drugs causes considerable distress in my constituency, where the majority of the families of the victims of Harold Shipman reside. This proposal would for ever change the nature of the medical profession in the UK, and I note that the British Medical Association is fundamentally opposed to it.

Many people who are in favour of the Bill have made the case to me that in situations where the Bill would apply, the quality of life of the people affected by it is so poor that it justifies such a change. I understand that point. The levels of funding for social care in this country are a disgrace. The wages, conditions and zero-hours contracts of some of the people who are asked to care for our loved ones near the end are a disgrace, but to move towards a system of assisted suicide justified on the basis of that poor care and provision would also be a disgrace. We can offer people dignity and comfort at the end if we are willing to devote sufficient political and financial capital to that end.

Any legislation of this kind changes the way we as a society see the elderly and makes the limitations that come with age and illness something avoidable. It will become selfish to be old or ill, to be asking things of people or to be in need, whereas this time should be a time of great importance, of healing relationships and of saying thank you for everything that has been given to us in the lives we have led.

Another argument cited in favour of the Bill is that it merely codifies the existing guidelines of the Director of Public Prosecutions, but there is no way in which we can ever sufficiently codify the circumstances that these guidelines cover. There are situations where there is no public interest in prosecuting a person for breaking the law, but that does not mean that we as parliamentarians should change to law to legalise that behaviour in future. Hard cases make for bad law.

Finally, all the evidence I have seen from Holland and elsewhere suggests that this is one of those occasions where the slippery slope argument holds true. Just as in the UK, in Holland everyone was promised that there would be a specific and narrow application of the law, but now that is not the case and it is often used for very narrow reasons. None of the safeguards promised in the Bill could ever be sufficient. We will keep on revisiting them and weakening them, and practice will constantly push at them too. So let us oppose the Bill today. Let us reaffirm our determination to find better solutions to the problems that we have discussed today, but let us keep the fundamental respect for and sanctity of human life and the protection of the vulnerable that are rightly at the heart of the current legal position.