Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:54 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Labour 10:54 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, the topic of assisted dying provokes the whole range of human responses—ethical, personal, physical, political, legal, emotional and spiritual—and the advantage of speaking late, as I do, is that I have had the enormous benefit of all those responses this evening.

Like most people, in my life as these important matters arise, I deal with them through ideology and principle. I have spent most of my life in the world of business and industry, and you certainly need ideology and principle to survive successfully in that world. But as time moves on and circumstances change, even ideology and principle have to be reassessed—the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, spoke of that—otherwise we would never have change and progress.

I recognise and respect that, through faith or professional ethics, people can be against assisted dying. Several noble Lords have spoken about that. Like other noble Lords, I respect their ideology and principle, but change and progress is made through a careful re-examination of those ideologies and principles. From this debate, it seems that assisted dying, when subject to proper safeguards, need not violate those established principles. As we have heard, it can be a blessing.

Of course I recognise that, in order to safeguard our principles, there needs to be an exhaustive examination of those safeguards, and your Lordships' committee has been most diligent in that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and others told us about the visits to Oregon, the Netherlands and Switzerland. They have read the submissions of several hundred witnesses and listened to the oral evidence of 150 witnesses. To give you a measure of the amount of work put into this by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, I quote him directly:

"Such was the complexity and passionate interest in the Bill and the Select Committee, that it has probably required more sustained work by me than the nine month trial in which I defended Nelson Mandela and the leadership of the African National Congress in 1963".

It seems that the committee, in examining the safeguards, has been both exhaustive and exhausting.

I shall be brief. After reading the report and listening to this debate, I am satisfied and convinced that adequate safeguards can be put in place to protect my principles. This is not the start of the slippery slope. It is a matter not of hard cases making bad law but of relieving the suffering of the hard cases. In view of that, I would strongly support any future Bill, and I congratulate the committee and the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, on their diligence.