Assisted Dying

Part of Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans – in the House of Commons at 3:54 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South 3:54 pm, 4th July 2019

Ten years ago, I worked with some excellent doctors, nurses, patients and carers who were trying to improve clinicians’ communication skills to help patients gain a better understanding of long-term conditions and diseases—how to live with their disease and how to die with it. As my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi said, not all clinicians are equipped with the skills necessary to have those conversations. I learned particularly about how lonely it is for people who are dying—it is often nobody’s role to talk about dying—and no one has exemplified that today more than my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield. It is a very lonely place. I learned that people do not have the control and choice that they otherwise have in their lives, and I learned how hard is for clinicians to support people. It really opened my eyes and made me determined to change the law even before I came into this place.

It is a pleasure to work with Nick Boles as co-chair of the all-party group. In that capacity, it was my absolute pleasure to welcome and host Geoffrey and Ann Whaley when they came to talk to MPs in February. I welcome Ann to the Chamber, as well as all the other families who have come here to listen to this very measured debate.

When the campaigners, who are very passionate on this subject, come to see me, I talk to them about how to talk to their own MPs, and the first thing I say to them is, “Try to look at the MP in front of you as a human being.” We know in this place and in this time in our politics that lots of people do not think we are human beings, and it is difficult, but we are human beings. I say to those campaigners, “You do not know what those human beings you are talking to have experienced in their lives or are currently experiencing in their lives. Please bear that in mind when you start to talk to us.”

We are here as human beings, but we are also here as legislators, and legislation is what we are trying to encourage with this debate. Through the all-party group, we are trying to help all of us human beings, with all our failings, prejudices and experiences, to understand the law as it operates, how it affects people and what we need to do to take our responsibility to change that. I am clear that the law needs to change, but I understand that many people have not got to that place. We want to try to help people. In particular, we want to try to get evidence. The call is not just to trade facts and figures, but to collect evidence. I really hope that we can help to move forward on that today.

The story of Geoffrey and Ann really did horrify me, although it is not the first time I have heard the story. We have two committed, loving people being treated as criminals for carrying out what was an act of love and compassion. We should also think about the impact on people like those in our police services. Think about the poor police officers who were sent round as this lovely family were trying to manage a terrible situation. Think about the time taken out of their duties and the trauma for them as individuals. That is not acceptable; it is us abrogating our responsibility.

Geoffrey died comfortably at Dignitas only a week after he came to Parliament. He was clear that he was dying before he was ready, and he was terrified about the police investigation. As the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford said, he was a strong man. When he talked to us, the only time his voice faltered was when he talked about that knock on the door, because he was so worried about the impact on his family. He was clear about the hurdles that needed to be jumped to make the decision that he wanted to make, but he was also clear that he did not expect MPs just to change the law. He had high standards for us as MPs. He expected us to collect evidence and to challenge the evidence, and to do so very carefully. He was, as the hon. Gentleman said, cut from some old cloth. He expected us to do a diligent job.