Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Nick Boles on initiating yet a further discussion on this subject. We have heard some passionate contributions, and very moving ones, including that by Paul Blomfield, who delivered his speech with great dignity; I congratulate him on that.
We discuss a wide range of matters in this House, from rather mundane ones, such as those which we were discussing before this debate, to those that affect life and death. Nothing, of course, can be more important than issues that affect life and death.
I am not a lawyer; nor do I claim any particular insight. Indeed, I see through a glass darkly. I have an uneasy feeling, which I know is shared by some hon. Members, that we as a society are moving towards a situation in which assisted dying is legitimised, and I recognise that many would support that, as we have heard this afternoon. For myself, I believe life to be sacred and God-given, and I readily acknowledge that that is a view that is not universally accepted. However, I am sure we can all agree that life is uniquely precious, and that we should do all we can to preserve it, and I do not in any way question the motives of those, be they Members of this House or members of the public at large, who take a different view. Many will have reached those conclusions having witnessed the slow, painful death of a loved one.
I believe that any move to lay out a statutory framework is a further step, however small, towards an acceptance that assisted dying is in some way given the seal of approval. Some things are best left in the grey area.
We are today discussing the functioning of the current law, and it is perhaps an argument to say that it is not as clear as some desire, but surely the question is whether we can give clarity to such a complex matter—can we, as the Legislature, frame an Act of Parliament to cover all the complexities—or is it better, in cases that are presented to the prosecuting authorities or the courts, to leave it to them to consider the unique circumstances that each case presents?
Both my parents died of cancer and suffered in their final months. I well remember the telephone call from a specialist who, having received the results of the tests on my father, said, “We must hope that God is merciful and does not allow him to suffer for too long”. Although he did suffer, it was not for too long. In fact, he lived for a further six months after I received that fateful call. In his final weeks, which he spent in St Andrew’s hospice in Grimsby, I saw what comfort could be offered through palliative care. No longer did he suffer the periods of pain that he had had in earlier weeks—and that happened as long ago as 1988. Through my visits to St Andrew’s since, and to Lindsey Lodge hospice near Scunthorpe, both of which serve my constituency, I have seen the advances that have been made in the years since. Sadly, my mother died in hospital on the day that she was to be transferred to St Andrew’s.
In the case of both my parents, it is probably true that their passing was hastened by drugs, such as morphine, and no doubt others would argue that it would have been better had they been given the opportunity to shorten their lives by a few weeks or months, but I firmly believe it is better that the situation is left as it is. If one is old, frail, weak and seriously ill, one needs help, support and compassion—not the added worry and the nagging doubt over whether everything possible is being done to preserve one’s life.