Assisted Dying

Part of Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans – in the House of Commons at 2:43 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 2:43 pm, 4th July 2019

I thank Nick Boles for securing this debate, and for the thoughtful and powerful way in which he opened it. Like him, I will share a personal experience, although mine is not as positive.

It is, by a coincidence, the eighth anniversary to the day of my receiving a phone call here in Westminster that my father had been found dead in his garage. The previous night, he had tidied up his belongings, left small piles of money to settle the bills with the newsagent and others, and written final notes. He had then walked to the garage, connected a hosepipe from his car exhaust into the car, taken an overdose and switched on the engine. As hon. Members can see, I do not find this easy to talk about, even after eight years, but I have done so before and I will do so today, not least because I know that he would have wanted me to, as somebody who had always believed in a change in the law on assisted dying.

My father’s experience shows how the existing law not simply fails people, but leads to premature deaths. Now, I know that some of those opposing a change argue—I respect my hon. Friend Lyn Brown for doing so—that it could lead to people taking their lives sooner than they would otherwise face their end. But my experience, and the experience of many others—I think that some of the statistics mentioned by Sir Peter Bottomley are understated—is that the existing law in itself encourages people to take their life sooner than they would otherwise do.

My father was 87. At that age, he had inevitably watched many of his friends go, often miserably. He talked in particular of one friend who had become confined to bed, doubly incontinent, and—having become both deaf and blind—unable to communicate with anybody. My father saw no point in that kind of life, and had always said that he would rather end things than face a degrading death. He was somebody who had made most of his life: he had a tough east end upbringing in poverty, became an RAF pilot in the war and built a successful business career. He had his share of health problems, but faced them all positively. He was not afraid of pain, but he could not face the indignity of a lingering death, and I am sure that he made up his mind to take his life soon after receiving a terminal diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer. But he still died prematurely, and I am sure that what drove him to end his life at that point was the fear that if he did not act when he could and was still able to do so, he would lose the opportunity to act at all. He could not talk to me or his partner about it, because he would have made us complicit. The current law forced my father into a lonely decision and a lonely death.

Some people will say that we simply need to improve end-of-life care, and it is hugely important that we do. My father supported our local hospice and I raise funds for it. It does a great job, but no hospice can enable everybody to die with the dignity that they would want. Indeed, for my father, it was soon after his appointment with a palliative care nurse where together they talked about his last months that he took the decision to take his life. If the law had made it possible, he could have shared his plans with us, and knowing that he could, with support, go at the time of his choosing would have enabled him to stay longer. If the law had made it possible, he would have been able to say goodbye and go with his family around him, not in a carbon monoxide-filled garage. He, and many others like him, deserve better. We simply need to change the law.

I appreciate that there are those here whose personal beliefs—whose faith—makes my father’s choice unacceptable. I respect those beliefs. Live your life by them, but do not impose them on others. Let people have the choice at the end of their lives. Allow them dignity in dying as we would want them to have it in life.