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Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill

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

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party, Foyle 1:11 pm, 11th September 2015

We have heard many compassionate and compelling words today, and the voice of conscience has come through on both sides of the debate, just as it has come through on both sides of the correspondence we have all received from our constituents. I will be opposing the Bill. Some of the constituents who have written to me have suggested that I am being Church-whipped. I am no more Church-whipped in opposing this Bill’s Second Reading than I was when I voted for the Second and Third Readings of the marriage equality Bill.

Like all Members, I come here today as a conscientious legislator dealing with difficult issues. I acknowledge the sincerity of the Members proposing the Bill, but as a legislator I cannot satisfy myself that the compassion with which it has been proposed is adequate to allow it to pass. I am not convinced by the so-called safeguards that it is claimed to have, and I do not believe that it would be enough to rely on codes of practice that might or might not be introduced in future.

In that regard I am moved by what I have heard directly from many medical professionals. We have been privileged to hear today from Members with medical experience and insights about some of the difficulties that they see arising from the Bill. They are concerned about not only the professional compromises that would be created, but the pernicious conditioning effect that would result. Many Members have rightly raised concerns about incidents of coercion arising in the discharge of this legislation, but there are also concerns about the wider conditioning effect, and many medical professionals have voiced those to me. They are concerned that it would affect their relationship not only with patients, but with colleagues and other professionals, because of the quandaries and difficulties that would arise.

I am also not convinced by people making the case for the Bill by focusing on what would not be covered by it. I cannot take from them the assurance that the Bill draws a line and could not be used to take us on a travelator towards more legislation. If the compelling cases which motivated Members to propose the Bill would not be covered by it, I find it hard to see how those same cases would not be used to take us on a further journey, so I accept the slippery slope argument.

It has been suggested that relying on the prosecution guidance as adequate would be a dereliction of duty on our part as legislators, but let us remember that those who are proposing the Bill would still be relying on the guidance for all the cases that fall outside the scope of the Bill. If it is okay for people to rely on that guidance for cases that fall outside the scope of the Bill, why would it be wrong for those of us who oppose the Bill to rely on it as well for people in that situation?

I do not claim that we have moral superiority over anyone in the decisions that we take today, but as legislators we are compelled to make those choices. I know that the choice I make as a legislator might not be the choice I would make as a terminally ill patient, or as someone who receives a strong and emotional request from a loved one who is terminally ill, or as a juror if a prosecution took place at some time; I must make the decision today as a legislator. That is why I must vote against what I regard as poor and dangerous legislation.