My Lords, when people ask what the point of the House of Lords is, we should point to this debate and to the quality of the committee's report. Whatever the eventual outcome of our discussions—I should say that I support a change in the law—the time is clearly right for this debate. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, for bringing forward his Bill.
We cannot ignore this matter because it is being debated in the country, in the media, in pubs, in churches, at school gates, over the kitchen table and in many families. The public followed the Diane Pretty case in detail day by day and watched its tragic outcome. This is an issue that touches, or will touch, many of us. It is not the preserve of professionals, nor can it be the preserve of those with strong religious beliefs. It is the preserve of all of us.
We have received particularly strong statements from practioners of palliative care and from hospices that their relationships with the terminally ill could be affected. Of course we have to listen to and respect that. But we should recognise with the greatest respect that their views may not be the views of their patients. It is their patients' views that must be paramount. The Bill offers independent choice to those who are denied it at present. Of course we all wish to see palliative care improve in future and hope that the Bill will not be necessary. But the Bill does not deny the improvement in care that we all seek. This is not an either/or situation. This is an issue of independence and equality. It is about an extension of human rights to those who are at present denied them.
I welcome the amendments outlined today by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. They deal with several concerns raised by the committee. It is clear that a lot more detailed work will be needed to get the Bill right. But in the end the public know in principle what this debate is about. Like many noble Lords, I have received lots of strongly argued letters with passionate views from both sides. Like my noble friend Lady Gibson, I found one particularly poignant and I shall read a section of it. The young woman argues that she has a very cruel choice between starvation or hard suffering and a very unpleasant end. Her other choice is to go abroad with her husband to help her. The reason that she feels unable to do that is her fear of what her husband's legal position would be when he returns. She wrote:
"I cannot plead with you more, to listen to your public. Hear their voices. A change in the law to make assisted dying legal in this country is not only the right decision, but also a necessary step forward, so that people, who often have their dignity taken away from them by their illness, can at least have a dignified death at a time of their choosing. Bring an end to the unnecessary suffering felt by many. Give patients their voices back".
I hope that we can fulfil her wishes so that in future others will not suffer in the same way.