Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:58 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Lord Moser Lord Moser Crossbench 10:58 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, we have had a remarkable debate, and for that all of us are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and the excellent report before us. In view of the late hour, I shall confine myself to just one point in the report.

The report dealt with evidence from many experts and professional groups, but also public opinion. Public opinion has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. It is obviously important for the subject. There is enormous interest out there. Ultimate decisions on the matter will rest with Parliament and so, if for no other reason, with public opinion. What do we know about what people think?

The committee did not have time to commission its own opinion research, so it asked an organisation called Market Research Services to assess survey evidence over the past two decades. To my mind—this is very much my own field—the assessment by that organisation was far too dismissive of the weight of opinion and the enormous excellence of some of the surveys. They were criticised as being too quantitative, which is not a criticism in my view, and too simple for such a complex topic. In fact surveys, when technically sound, can be helpful indicators of public opinion, even on complex issues. But the assessors were right in giving more positive weight to the work of the National Centre for Social Research, which is generally regarded as the best of this country's—and perhaps Europe's—survey organisations. I declare my interest as a trustee from that organisation's early days. The centre carries out so-called basic social attitude surveys, which have been extremely valuable and for a decade have covered the subject of our debate. Incidentally they were the only surveys that were conducted neutrally without any connection with vested interests—pro or con.

The results have been clear. Support for voluntary euthanasia and assisted dying rose from some 75 per cent in the mid 1970s to some 82 per cent in the mid 1990s—much the same picture as emerged from all the other random surveys of the general population that have been referred to. I would not wish to suggest, nor does the Select Committee report, that this strong public opinion in favour of a change in the law makes the issue decisive for our conclusions. But, equally, it would be wrong to regard it as marginal. The state of public opinion, which is shifting all the time in favour of a change in the law—and some new surveys are being carried out—must play a part in our considerations and leads me to conclude that the steps before us today, a formal Second Reading followed by the Committee stage, would be overwhelmingly in accord with public opinion. My simple point is that public opinion on this matter is not marginal.