Dignity in Dying

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:44 pm on 8th December 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield 8:44 pm, 8th December 2021

I will get a little further with my case, and then I will certainly give way.

Furthermore, this leniency does nothing for those who cannot afford a trip to Switzerland; who cannot access the necessary medical records; who cannot travel due to illness or disability; or who cannot access the services of Dignitas for a host of other reasons. It forces all those who accompany the dying person to break the law and run the risk of prosecution on their return to this country.

I am saddened to tell the House that David Peace has today died at Dignitas; it is a coincidence that he happened to die today. Many colleagues may have seen a touching interview with David over the summer, in which he spoke about his desire to control his death, rather than let motor neurone disease choose his death for him. Earlier this week, before he left this country—his home—for Switzerland, David said:

“I have terminal motor neurone disease, a fatal illness for which there is no treatment or cure. It has robbed me of my ability to speak, swallow, balance and walk. It is rampaging through my body, paralysing my muscles. Nothing will stop it. Palliative care cannot give me the death I want, I simply want the right to die on my own terms...My only option has been to plan an assisted death at Dignitas in Switzerland, which I have done in meticulous detail over the past few months. Though stressful and hugely expensive, this has given me comfort and peace of mind. Covid-19 measures have been a real concern throughout this year, knowing that travel restrictions or lockdowns could jeopardise my plans”.

He continued:

“The emotional and logistical nightmare I have endured over the past few days would have been avoided entirely under the Assisted Dying Bill, which would have enabled me to go peacefully and with dignity in my own home at a time of my choosing.”

David’s call is echoed by another proud Englishmen, Ray Illingworth, the legendary English and Yorkshire cricketer, who was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer a year ago. He said this of having to go abroad to obtain an assisted death:

“If that was the only option I would, but we shouldn’t have to do that. I’d like to be put to sleep in peace in my own home in Yorkshire.”

Ray has represented his country, and is now asking his country to help him have the choice of dying on his own terms.

Those who cannot travel to Switzerland have only a few agonising choices here at home. For many, our world-leading palliative and end-of-life care will ensure a peaceful and dignified death, but even with the very best care, 17 people a day will die in excruciating pain, to say nothing of those who die with uncontrollable symptoms, or without dignity in their final days. For those who wish to hasten their death, the option remains open of withdrawing from life-sustaining treatment, or voluntarily stopping eating and drinking with the intention of hastening death; but there is no option to take direct steps to end one’s own life with medical support.

Perhaps most tragic are the cases in which dying people, trapped in pain and despair, decide to end their life by suicide. The best estimates are that hundreds of suicides every year are of people living with a terminal illness. I know from speaking to people who have direct experience of losing their loved one to suicide that these dreadful decisions are taken not lightly, but as a last, desperate choice, due to the lack of a safeguarded assisted dying option.

We must be honest about recognising the victims of our laws—the dozens of our citizens who feel they must travel overseas to achieve the death that is right for them; the hundreds of terminally ill people who die by their own hand; and the thousands of people who die beyond the reach of the very best end-of-life care we can offer. Every year, we condemn too many people to becoming casualties of a law that lacks compassion and public support, and belongs to a bygone age.