I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the functioning of the existing law relating to assisted dying.
Six years ago this week, on a sunny July day like today, my father made a decision. At home in Devon, in the bed that he shared with my stepmother for more than 30 years, with his family around him, he took communion for the last time, said a few words of goodbye to each of us, and asked the district nurses to switch off the oxygen and make him comfortable. He could have clung on to life for several more days, but he was ready to go and, after talking it over with my stepmother, made his decision. A few hours later, he slipped away, with my brother by his side. This was the best of deaths: the saddest moments in our lives, filled with love and gratitude, and even joy.
A few months ago, Geoff Whaley made a similar decision. Cut from the same cloth as my dad, he was a gentleman of the old school, but Geoff had motor neurone disease and recognised that he was likely to suffer horribly in the final days and weeks of his life. He knew that his only chance of a good death was to arrange to go to Dignitas in Switzerland. Geoff was a determined and organised man, but there were some things that he physically could not do. He needed his wife Ann’s help. When someone tipped off social services about their plan, the police turned up at the Whaleys’ door and Ann was interviewed under caution. That caution remains on her record.
Thanks to the support of Ann and their daughter Sarah, Geoff died on his own terms, but several months earlier than he would have needed to had the same procedure been available here in the UK. Under Swiss law, none of the family was allowed to be present at his cremation. Yet Ann would describe herself as one of the lucky ones, because she and Geoff could afford the cost—the air fares, the hotels and the fees—of going to Dignitas. Every year, hundreds of other people in our country face the prospect of great suffering at the end of a terminal illness—suffering that cannot be alleviated by our wonderful palliative care nurses—and have no legal means of doing anything to stop it.