Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:40 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Baroness McFarlane of Llandaff Baroness McFarlane of Llandaff Crossbench 10:40 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, I wish to speak very briefly about the contribution made by nursing and midwifery, because those have been the professions in which I have worked. I came to nursing in 1947, which is a few years ago, and the ways of treating the dying were very different then; but I must have sat for many nights beside the beds of dying patients at Barts, where I trained. Many noble Lords will know that Barts is a monastic foundation, or has one; I feel that I entered into a seamless robe of caring that stretches from 1123 right down to me. I inherited some of those values and seek to emulate them in my life still.

I believe that as nurses and midwives, we have the great privilege of sharing the joys and sorrows of the beginnings and ends of life. I remember the relief that I felt when Dame Cicely Saunders came into view, with her developments in palliative care, which added so much to our ability to care for people. I am indebted to her throughout my professional life.

I want to say how much I feel that voluntary organisations add to care in this whole area. I have had the privilege of serving on the committees and councils of a number of voluntary organisations, such as the Malcolm Sargent Cancer Fund for Children, not to speak of my own hospice, St Anne's Hospice in Cheadle. It has been a great privilege to see how much people who work in organisations of that kind contribute to the values of our society in all that they do. I admire tremendously the role of voluntary organisations in our society. What amused me recently was to find how much job satisfaction there is among the workers at St Anne's Hospice in Cheadle. This year it won the award for the second best place to work in the UK and the first best place to work in England, as listed by the Sunday Times. That is an achievement. When one is doing work of that kind, there is tremendous job satisfaction, which many other organisations might like to emulate.

I wanted also to dwell on the importance of family and all that family contributes to the care of the terminally ill and dying. I listened to the experiences recounted by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and felt how fortunate I have been by contrast. October 10 is a very significant day in the history of my family as it was my mother's birthday. She was born in 1882 and lived to be 108. I learnt a great deal from her about geriatric nursing and making a good death. She was a focus of the family over many years. We gathered on this day round her bed year after year to celebrate her life. It was a life worth celebrating. She kept me in place as regards my nursing skills. I remember one evening struggling to get her rather copious arm into a garment that was clearly not made for her. She turned to me and said with some venom, "If that is how you nurse your patients, I am sorry for them". There was I, a professor of nursing. I should have known better, shouldn't I?

As I say, that occasion kept the family together for years. We used to gather on 10 October. Every year we would say, "We had better go this year; it is bound to be the last", and on she would go to 102, 103, 104. I think that Her Majesty was fast running out of congratulatory telegrams. That was a blessed experience which has held us all together ever since. I feel so fortunate that I can rejoice in that. I make those inadequate observations about what it means to be a nurse and to have the tools of palliative care at one's disposal, and about what it means to be a midwife and meet life at its start and revere it. It would be difficult for me to change from that mode of care to handing a deadly mixture to a patient. It is something that is alien to all my professional values.