Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:13 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Non-affiliated 10:13 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, it is quite late and I thought that I might just stand up to say that I support the Bill tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and sit down again. That would certainly make half of your Lordships very happy for the support and the other half of you very happy for the brevity, but I want to say a little more on this important topic. I am very grateful to the Select Committee for giving us this opportunity to debate it. Like my noble friend Lord Puttnam, I should like to focus on individuals rather than on doctors, nurses or churches: to focus on people.

We all die. Some of us will die better than others and, for painful and difficult deaths, palliative care can help and certainly needs improvement in its quality and distribution in this country. In my previous existence I was involved in the enlargement of palliative care, but I do not believe that it is enough. It is not enough for control freaks—the noble Baroness, Lady David, was very unhappy about being designated in that way—who, after a lifetime of trying to control their lives may find themselves at the end of it unable to control it. I include myself in that category.

The other group of people on whom we have not focused enough is those with long-standing terminal diseases for whom the dread of a terrible death threatens to blight even the comparatively disease-free part of their lives. A few years ago, a group from your Lordships' House was privileged to hear from a young woman with early motor neurone disease. She had experienced her mother's lingering death from the same condition. Despite support and palliative care, it was a horrible death for her mother and for the family. The young girl now faced a long decline in her own health in the same way, with clear knowledge of what lay in store for her in the future. She desperately needed the comfort of knowing that when her time came she could make a choice in order to avoid going through that terrible sort of death. The Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, would give her that lifelong comfort.

In the debate, we have heard a lot about the sanctity of life and the preciousness of the gift of life. But I believe that life is no longer sanctified or precious if the holder has come to the point where life is no longer seen as a precious commodity. We have heard a great deal about respect. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, summed it up when she said that a dying person should not have to beg for his or her wishes to be respected. A dying person should not have to save up his or her drugs surreptitiously and risk an amateur and botched suicide. A dying person should not have to travel abroad to die among strangers. That is not respect.

The Bill is a very carefully crafted set of proposals. I very much admire the thoughtful way in which the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, has conducted the drafting and his commitment to amend it to best meet the widest possible range of views. It contains multiple safeguards against misuse. It deserves our and, indeed, the Government's support.