It is almost four years since we last debated and voted on this issue, after Rob Marris introduced the Assisted Dying (No.2 Bill), which is now sponsored by Lord Falconer in the other place. I thought it was a thoughtful piece of legislation, and during the last debate I responded from the Front Bench on behalf of the Opposition. It was a highly charged debate, and 85 Members tried to speak. I was slightly surprised that the vote was so decisive, with 330 votes against the Bill and 118 in favour, particularly given that public opinion was then 80%—now perhaps 90%—in favour of such a change to the law. It is unusual for us to lag behind public opinion on matters of social legislation in such a way.
From reading that debate, and from some of the speeches this afternoon, I appreciate that a number of Members speak from a religious perspective. I entirely respect that and their right to make their own decisions, but I do not agree that they should be able to impose those decisions on me or those of my constituents who do not necessarily share that outlook. We have talked about choice, which is important, but I think this issue goes further than that. The ability to choose the time and manner of one’s own death under the circumstances that have been described, sometimes in horrific terms, is a basic human right. That is particularly true when we consider the issue of people’s means because, as many Members have said, someone’s ability to make that choice is restricted to those who can afford the organisation, time, money and support to go to Switzerland or somewhere else abroad.
The arguments about dignity and suffering have been very well made and are very difficult to rebut, but the more one looks into this the more compelling the case becomes. I met Ann and Geoffrey Whaley when they visited this House the week before Geoffrey went to the Dignitas clinic. Meeting them was one of the most profound things to have happened to me since becoming a Member. It was extraordinary to witness not just their courage but the certainty and the measured way in which they put forward their arguments. I pay tribute to them. They then had to go through the stress of a police interview. The fact that the police, I gather, interview in about 50% of such cases, is itself strange, but in 100% of cases the threat is there for those relatives—the feeling that the police might turn up on your doorstep at the most vulnerable time in your life.
There is also the risk of forfeiture, or at least having to go to the courts to apply for relief from forfeiture, because it is quite possible that joint assets cannot pass to a succeeding spouse, for example, because of their involvement in that regard.