Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:46 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Chapman Baroness Chapman Crossbench 8:46 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, I have read the report we are now discussing. There are several issues that I could talk about, but I shall start by telling your Lordships about my experience of terminal illness.

My mum died of cancer 16 years ago. She was diagnosed with it 11 months earlier. It was not a pleasant experience. To watch someone you love die is indescribable. When it became obvious that the cancer was winning, mum chose to go into Wheatfields Hospice in Leeds. She was expected to live only a few days when she was admitted on 9 August 1989. She died in the early hours of 9 September 1989.

We had a whole month of borrowed time. Mum had her 53rd birthday. I think back to that month. How can one month be the best and yet the worst month of your life?

Our whole family have so many memories of that month. Yes, they are tinged with sadness but they are good, positive memories. Mum's pain was controlled and we had the illusion of improvement because of the skills within the palliative care team. She concentrated on her family, ensuring that we all had strict instructions to look out for each other. My life is better for having those memories.

If a Bill such as the present one had been in place we may have been deprived of those memories. Mum was, unlike me, a quiet, reserved person who hated to inconvenience anyone and worried about the stress her illness put on her family. I dread to think what choices she may have made to protect her family.

It was my first experience of palliative care. Do we want to jeopardise that kind of support, not only for the patient but also for the family?

When I began writing this speech, I wondered how to explain my concerns. Then I remembered a debate I took part in which I feel explains how I believe this Bill would affect society's attitude to people with chronic, long-term and terminal conditions.

I received a phone call from Radio Scotland asking whether I would take part in a live debate on the support for parents of disabled children with terminal conditions. The trigger for the debate was a man who was appearing in court for killing his 10 year-old son. The son had a condition where his life expectancy was 14 to 20 years. His father admitted smothering him, but was claiming that it was a "mercy killing".

I took part in the discussion. Also speaking was an MP from the Netherlands. As noble Lords can probably guess, I was defending the child's right to live his life to the full. The MP said that euthanasia was a great idea and that "they"—whoever "they" are—believe a child as young as seven knows whether he wants to live or die. I was appalled. I told him that I would not let a seven year-old child choose his menu for a day. His response was that a "good parent" would do this for his child. At that point I told him that that was an insidious use of language. His statement implied that only a "bad parent" would want to keep his child alive. He did not respond.

Bringing up a child is not easy. Doing what you think is right for a disabled child increases the pressures a thousand-fold. This Bill does not cover children, but if it becomes law we will be on an inevitable path that will be a very lonely and frightening one for many people. For all the report's claims that society will not change its attitude to life and terminal conditions, I feel that that story shows fully the reality of that kind of law on societal beliefs.

I firmly believe that palliative care should, and indeed must, be available to all, as very few people are aware of the range of support that it gives. However, there are no guarantees of palliative care within the Bill and, without considering the multitudes of other issues involved, people who are in pain and do not receive emotional and/or physical support may choose that option. They do not want to die, but living without the pain control and support is untenable.

I am concerned about other things: the terminal diagnosis and the fact that many people live way beyond their expected lifespan; the two-week delay for people to change their mind is a very short time and gives people no time to adapt to their new situation. Lots of people adapt to chronic, long-term, life-threatening conditions. They get on with their life and enjoy their right to life. In giving people the right to die, we must not jeopardise people's right to life.


Tori Siegler
Posted on 10 May 2006 6:31 pm (Report this annotation)

I agree with the Baroness. If palliative care is improved then there will be no need for people to wish to commit euthanasia.