Assisted Dying

Part of Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans – in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 4th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West 3:43 pm, 4th July 2019

The number for the Samaritans is 116 123. If anyone thinks they need help or is contemplating suicide, other than in some of the circumstances that we have heard about, they should think about calling up, sending an email to jo@samaritans.org, visiting a branch, or writing to them.

It is obvious that a lot of people in many countries around the world want to end their lives because of depression or mental pressures, and people ought to start a debate like this by talking about that.

We then ought to get on to what was said by my hon. Friend Nick Boles, who stated that this was not about changing the law. However, it was fairly plain from his speech and that of my hon. Friend Crispin Blunt that they are talking about changing the law, and that was confirmed by the speech we just heard from Norman Lamb.

I have experience of some of these issues. My brother’s life support was switched off after an accident, and my mother died six hours early because of pain control. My father clearly told me he would never go into a hospice. He said he would go to bed and make sure he did not wake up in the morning. I asked when that would be, and he said, “When I stop playing golf.” The third time he gave up golf and put his clubs in my car, I rang my sister and told her what was happening. She told me he had said the same thing about when he stopped playing music.

A year later, I discussed with my father whether he might ever think of going into a home, and he said he would—he never did—and that he had thought about what he would take. He said he might take three CDs with him, because he might want to play music, but he had not actually played any music for six months.

My father’s story echoes what Frank Field said in an early debate on this subject about 20 years ago. Barbara Wootton, the founder of the national assistance service, had made him swear that, if she were in hospital and asked for drugs, he would go and get them from her bathroom cabinet and give them to her. She was in hospital for six months in awkward circumstances, but she never asked.

I spoke earlier of the equivalent of 21,000 people having assisted deaths or euthanasia in the Netherlands. In Switzerland, where Dignitas provides a service for some people, the rate is under half of that in the Netherlands and, I think, Belgium—that needs checking.

Some people say we might have an initial peak but that a second order, polynomial best-fit trend line will show that, in time, the rate of increase slows and the overall rate levels off. That may be so, but what is also so is that 15 jurisdictions in the past two years have decided against changing the law, and 96% of jurisdictions around the world do not have laws that go further than ours.

Of course there are difficult cases, but we should not use hard cases to justify a change that can lead—not will lead, but can lead—to a major change. Nobody in the Netherlands said in 2002 they were anticipating 5,000 assisted suicides or euthanasia cases a year. They did not say it. People may say that because Oregon has not changed further, things there will never change, but in Oregon they are having the same debates about euthanasia as we are having about assisted dying.

There is a whole series of expressions: medical aid in dying, physician-assisted suicide, physician-assisted death, aid in dying, death with dignity, right to die, compassionate death, end-of-life choice, medical assistance at the end of life and advanced care directives, and the like. I understand all that, and I have taken part in more of these debates than anyone else in the Chamber because I have been here longer—I am probably nearer my death than other Members are—but what I want to say to colleagues is that we should not build on individual cases.

Our first lodger was the first person I knew with motor neurone disease. In the days, weeks, months and years before he died, he never once suggested that he wanted to end his life. A constituent of mine—she has authorised me to give her name, but I will not—says that her family has Huntington disease, and most of us know what that involves, and she asked me to oppose this, so I shall.