Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:37 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Lord Sheldon Lord Sheldon Labour 9:37 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, I also express my great appreciation for the report and the detailed and voluminous evidence that it contains. It was rather surprising when one received the amount of information available; it was well beyond what one might have expected for such a committee. The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, has undertaken a valuable campaign to give those who have been subjected to great suffering and indignity the right to bring to an end a life that has become unbearable.

Time is on the noble Lord's side. He came into the area rather unexpectedly but, as time has gone on, more and more people have been impressed with the arguments that he puts, and he has created a number of people who have a contrary view. He has brought the matter right into the forefront of political life in a way in which I had never suspected that it might be in my time.

I fully support the proposed Bill, but am concerned about one consequence, which I would like to receive further consideration. The problem is that, in some cases, death can be a release for not only the patient but for some of the family. There could be pressure from the family, expressed or not, in connection with the financial consequences of a lingering death. There is also the burden of attending to the needs and wishes of the patient.

The patient's life may be very limited in time, but in some cases it may linger for a greater period. During that time, the financial position of the patient may decline rapidly, and the family's expectation of financial inheritance may affect their attitude. Besides that, there are problems of visiting and attention to the affairs of the patient. All of that may consciously or not be transmitted to the patient and encourage and prompt a decision to seek an early end to an unwelcome and lingering life.

The role of the hospice movement has been a great help against that. The Tameside hospice in my previous constituency has had an impressive effect on bringing in palliative care and great consideration for the limited life of the patient. I appreciate the value of the work that has been undertaken there. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said earlier, not all suffering can be relieved. Palliative medicine is undoubtedly limited. It may improve with time; it would be surprising if it dealt with more extreme cases. Some people find similar kinds of pain greater than others. There is a great distinction in the way that people perceive such matters.

Fundamentally, however, although we do not choose to come into this world, most people have found their lifetime's experience satisfactory and, to many, happy. But we must have the right to bring it to an end in those cases where the disadvantages of life have become so much greater than the benefits that they have previously enjoyed.