It is a pleasure to follow Carolyn Harris. I thank Nick Boles for bringing forward this debate, because I am on something of a journey in relation to my approach to this issue. That approach has largely been shaped by speaking to the family of a constituent who, in July 2017, went to Dignitas in Switzerland, where she ended her life. Her mother and sister came to see me, and their experience echoes that of Paul Blomfield. I pay tribute to him for his bravery in outlining his experience with his father.
Anna, my constituent’s sister, said:
“To get to Dignitas in Switzerland Jemima had to be able to single-handedly plan, pay for and travel across the UK until she was outside its legal jurisdiction, all without any family support. In accompanying Jemima to Dignitas, I knew that my family and I were going to be subjected to a police investigation on our return from Switzerland. At the worst possible time, when we were grieving the loss of our loved one.
Jemima interpreted the UK laws as best she could so that she didn’t implicate us in her death but she was still terrified that we would be prosecuted on our return. Jemima was also really concerned that her degenerative diseases would deteriorate to the point where she would not be able to either plan the journey or to physically get to Switzerland under her own steam.
So Jemima made the decision to have an assisted suicide years before she needed to. The UK Government literally stole years of my sister’s life. I know if she had been able to exercise her ‘right to die’
in the UK, she would have chosen to stay with us for many more years to come.”
I think those are very powerful words.
Those who wish to end their lives now must leave the UK alone, despite their ill health, or leave with relatives who will face suspicion and investigation when they return home. This imposes a legal complexity that requires ordinary people, at a time of great stress, to understand and interpret complex areas of law and how it is enforced by the police, often without professional legal advice, because of the terms of the Suicide Act, as outlined by the hon. Member for Swansea East. I would like to focus on that for a moment. In the case of this constituent, I had to write to Cheshire police to ask what its approach was and how it enforced the law. The lack of clarity from police forces is deeply troubling, and although I was pleased that it said it would enhance constable training and update its website, I am deeply concerned that that guidance is still not online. That means there is a postcode lottery in this country regarding how a local police force will enforce the law, which makes an already complex legal picture even more difficult to navigate. Whether or not we change the law, the police must respond to these cases far more sensitively and be more transparent about how they handle them.
My constituent and her family were put through months of hell, waiting for an investigation to conclude. To face such scrutiny after a heart-rending loss is difficult, but for the police to then make a family spend month after month reliving their loss does not serve the interests of the family, the public or justice. Despite all that, my constituent had the resources to go to Switzerland and plan her own death.