Assisted Dying

Part of Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans – in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth 4:22 pm, 4th July 2019

I thank the Backbench Business Committee; Nick Boles and Norman Lamb, who brought forward this debate; and those Members who have described in moving terms their personal experiences. I congratulate my hon. Friend Liz McInnes, who has just spoken in moving terms about the importance of good quality palliative care, because she is absolutely right. As far as I am concerned, this is a “both”: we need better quality, better informed palliative care and we need to change the law on assisted dying.

On Monday morning, I listened to Ann Whaley’s moving account on Radio 4 of the decision her husband Geoff took to die at Dignitas. Last night, I read Annabel Dixon’s blog in which she described, in such loving terms, her sister Jemima’s life and also her death at Dignitas. Both Geoff and Jemima decided, with their different but in both cases degenerative conditions, that the only way to have a good death—in control, a simple act, taking the medicines oneself, with their loved ones around them—and to get around UK legal restrictions was to die in suburban Zurich.

What struck me about both Ann’s account and Annabel’s account was the difficulty of having to go to Zurich, with the logistics of the journey and the pain of travelling as someone who is very sick, as well as the fear of prosecution, and then there is the cost of fees, travel and accommodation for everyone so that loved ones could be with them at their end. Geoff Whaley and Jemima Dixon, and others who have taken the journey to Zurich, had the capacity and the funds to make the arrangements. As others have said, the cost of going to Zurich is beyond the means of most people.

However, we have heard today of other deaths that were not happy—that were not with loved ones present, and where people could not, because of fear of prosecution, discuss their plans with their loved ones—and particularly the account of my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield.

Clinicians often feel that they have to take control, and they cannot discuss what they do with anyone else. Very often that is about upping the dose of morphine until the person slips away or, as in the much more tragic story mentioned by my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi, about removing the drugs that were keeping a loved one pain-free and alive. Those actions also removed the possibility of that person and their family discussing their end, which was going to be soon but needed to be pain-free and calm.

Many constituents have written to me supporting a change in the law, and in 2015 I voted to support that change. I assure hon. Members who are concerned about such a change that this debate is not about disabled people, those with life-limiting conditions, or those considering suicide due to depression. It is not about frail elderly people who are worried about being a burden, and it is not about vulnerable people who are at risk of being exploited on their death.

Reading Anna Dixon’s blog gave me an understanding of the level of assessment and scrutiny that was required over several stages before the assisted death in Zurich was permitted. The change to the law under debate today is relevant only to people of sound mind with a terminal illness—those who can predict the rough timing, but also the nature of their own natural death, which will be undignified, painful, and traumatic if they cannot take control. It is relevant to those who want to choose when to end the suffering that they know they and their loved ones will experience.

As we have heard, public opinion is moving behind a change. People of faith are also changing their views. Yesterday I spoke to a colleague whose faith background would generally oppose assisted dying, but who is now minded to support a change in the law. The medical profession is also coming round to support a change, or at least move to a position of neutrality

I understand the concerns and worries raised by hon. Members today, but we can learn lessons from other jurisdictions that have already implemented the right to an assisted death, and ensure that those concerns are addressed as the law is drafted. We can learn from 20 years of experience in Oregon to ensure that people’s fears are addressed. The UK can, and must, learn from the experience of those states.

I support the proposal to task the Law Commission with looking at this issue. We have to change the law. We owe it to those who know what their final months hold without assisted dying, and who wish to choose the time and place of their passing, and who is with them at their end. We must remove the grey areas for those people and their families.