Assisted Dying

Part of Sale of New Petrol and Diesel Cars and Vans – in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 4th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:35 pm, 4th July 2019

I am sorry; my speech is subject to a time limit.

Professor Weale commented:

“There is simply no point in the committee offering reasoned positions if they are ignored by council.”

The process has resulted in a legal challenge, which is ongoing, and damaging criticism from the Charity Commission as well:

“It is unclear whether the Council took into account that” the majority of at least 60% required

“would make it almost impossible to achieve” that majority.

In looking at the results of the RCP survey, it is very important to consider the detailed response to the 2019 poll by specialty. It reveals that those whose specialism means that they have a real expertise in the field of death and dying remain overwhelmingly opposed to assisted suicide: 80.9% of those participating in the poll working in palliative medicine were opposed to a change in the law. Some 48.3% working in respiratory medicine were opposed, 44.1% in geriatric medicine, 43.5% in neurology and 43.4% in gastroenterology. Again, those figures tell the story.

I appreciate that the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association have said that they will poll their members on this issue, but we do not have any results yet. Both those bodies would be well advised to study the RCP experience and learn from its mistakes. In that regard, they would do well to study an important new paper written by the former chair of the ethics committee, Professor Weale. They would find it very helpful indeed.

There were questions about the wording of the ComRes poll. In Dr Al Baghal’s executive summary of his review of the poll, he says:

“Overall, we would caution MPs and the public…There are a number of problems noted with this survey.”

Those problems included the fact that the poll is likely to be unrepresentative because of the demographic profile of respondents; the fact that only one side of the argument was presented to respondents in the question wording, using emotive language including terms such as “unbearable suffering”; and the fact that response options for several questions were designed such that they led people to choose a certain answer, even if they did not have a strong opinion, and may have led to respondents tending to select positive options even if that was not their settled opinion.

The basic problem with the proposal to legalise assisted suicide remains unchanged. It costs about £5 to give someone a lethal dose of barbiturates. It costs between £3,000 and £4,000 to keep someone in a hospice for a week. In that context, the right to die for the eloquent and financially well off will become a duty to die for the vulnerable. That is how I and other hon. Members feel, and it is deeply shocking that anyone living in a so-called civilised society should avail themselves of a state-sanctioned means of killing themselves.

In both Oregon and Washington State, 52% of those questioned said that not wanting to become a burden was one of the motivations for their decision. I have no desire to live under a law like that, and no desire therefore to see the legalisation of assisted suicide in the UK. We need a system that supports and helps families so that no one feels they are a burden, and I will push for change on this rather than in the current law.