Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:33 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 10:33 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, the debate has ebbed and flowed. I rise as a layman, who will die one day, to help voice the opposition, in the House and in the country, to the former Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. I have had letters from all over the country, all of them against the Bill.

Soft words such as "euthanasia" or "assisted dying" tend to destroy the trust between patients and their doctors and nurses. Suicide is not a crime, but why should the medical profession be expected to provide it on request? What is to happen to the old who can no longer make a request and to sick children who cannot yet speak? Physicians no longer, it seems, take the Hippocratic oath, but after the Shipman case and other examples of negligence or malpractice, trust is quite fragile. I do not want to face the spectre of Dr Death.

Doctors themselves are far from happy. My noble friend Lord Alton has already detailed the current state of opinion in the medical profession, so I need not cover that again. This Bill or its successor could have pernicious, unforeseen consequences. Some patients would seek compliant doctors who may know nothing about them beyond the mere facts stated on their case notes; and others would try to find doctors who would let them live out their natural span. We would also hear more about cost-effectiveness and bed-blocking.

The evidence from countries where therapeutic killing is legal is far from reassuring. We have heard something about that tonight. In the Netherlands, Belgium and Oregon, it is clear that safeguards prove ineffective; guidelines are not always observed; and there is under-reporting of actual cases. The Lancet, a reputable journal, has examined illegal infant euthanasia in Flanders. Given that background, let us uphold the sacredness of life for people of all ages. Let us not be beguiled by false notions of utility or, on the other hand, by excessive compassion, but support the best palliative care as given in hospices. Such care should be made available throughout the National Health Service.