Assisted Dying

Part of Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 4:01 pm, 4th July 2019

This is undoubtedly a hugely emotive and controversial subject, but I thank Nick Boles and my right hon. Friend Norman Lamb for giving us the opportunity to discuss it. I am convinced that I have not just a right, but a duty to work for changes in the law that will make it possible for people to have the individual right to choose their own time and manner of death. I am talking about people who, otherwise, will face a situation that will soon be very painful and that will also cause a great deal of stress to their family members. I have been lucky: I have not had to go through the sort of experience that we have heard about from other Members of the House.

Two years ago, I had a conversation with my husband about a friend who, we had just heard, had been given a terminal diagnosis. It was January. We said, “This year will be difficult. Christmas will be difficult. We will have to think about how to deal with it, but it will not be easy for him or for his family.” The irony of that conversation has never left me, because neither my husband nor the friend actually lived until Christmas, but the difference was that my husband died very suddenly. Our friend went through a long, painful, lingering death. If there had been a way that he could have been spared that, I would have wanted him to be offered that choice. There is also an irony in the fact that had I had the choice for my husband, I would have chosen the death that he had, rather than the one that our friend had.

The last piece of the ironic jigsaw is that, in this House, if we do make a decision on a change in the law, it will be a free vote, because we will regard how we vote on that law as a matter of conscience. Yet we have never taken up the challenge of giving that same choice, that same freedom of conscience, to the people who actually deserve it. If we are to take up that challenge—and I think we should—it will not be easy and it will not happen quickly. We will have to spend time on it. It will be extremely difficult for us all because we will have to examine our consciences and take into account the views not just of those who feel it is a necessary change, but of those who find it difficult for religious or other moral reasons. But we have a duty to do that.

Like probably every other Member here, I have received numerous letters from constituents this week, asking me to speak up for the change because they have been through experiences like the ones we have heard about so movingly today, and they want and need this change. We would sometimes do well to remember, as I am sure most of us do, that we are here to represent those people. We are told by Dignity in Dying, and in every other poll that has ever been done, that the majority of the public out there—84% at the last time of asking—believe that it is time for a change.

I saw the reports on television this morning about people who are currently facing this decision. They know that death is not far away, and would like to choose the manner of their dying. They would like to have what they believe is a good death. It is our duty to do whatever we can, for however long it takes, to ensure that they have that choice.