Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill: Select Committee Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:22 pm on 10th October 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Conservative 7:22 pm, 10th October 2005

My Lords, in spite of the dismissive way in which my noble friend Lady Knight spoke of dogs, cats and horses, I submit that in this country we adore our pets and give them the best care possible, we tolerate our children and are not that bothered about older people. The culture I come from is not quite the same. Older people are respected and cared for by the younger people, children are ever with the family and pets take a very low position. In this country, we spend money on pets and take advice from vets. If we want to keep a pet alive against a vet's wishes, we are told that we are being selfish. Yet we do not want to allow a person who can ask for help to have it. We do not want a person who is capable of making his or her wishes known to be allowed to do so. I find that very strange indeed.

We have heard a lot about the Netherlands. Different people have spoken about different things. I worked with a very good friend from the Netherlands who in the very early 1990s told me that her father was very ill. When I said "You will have to go and see him frequently", she said that she had met with her sisters and brothers and that they had decided that their father should have an early termination of life. In the Netherlands, euthanasia was practised before the law legalising it existed. When the law was introduced in 2001, it was not the first time euthanasia was used. I am sure that my noble friend Lord McColl will talk about his experiences in the Netherlands when we served on the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant.

The situation in the Netherlands is very strange: they were practising general euthanasia, not voluntary euthanasia, long before any law came into being. They are now moving back towards regularising the position. That is a fact. I heard it from my friend and noble Lords will hear more about it in a while.

It is interesting to hear from people of deep faith. It is not possible for anybody who has a deep-seated faith to acknowledge or accept that any patient should be helped to die by a family member or doctor. It is clear that if you believe in God, how and when you go must be God's will.

I was a little surprised by the comments of the most reverend primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Telegraph yesterday that we were sleepwalking towards a breaking of trust between doctor and patient. I did not think that we were sleepwalking. Given the number of debates that we have had on the subject and the wonderful report that has been produced, I would not call it sleepwalking. Our eyes are wide open; some of us feel one way and some feel another way, but we are not sleepwalking. Nobody should be in any doubt that we have considered this matter personally and deeply.

I was very much taken with Win and Jan Crew, whom I met at one of the meetings of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. They took Mr Crew to Switzerland to die. It was absolutely amazing to see those two women, and how when you love someone, you would do that for them—but you cannot do it in this country. Having heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, I do not think it can be moral to let somebody die by millimetres—I do not want to go into inches—and use the double effect. I find double effect to be hypocrisy, whether others do or not.

This is a very personal issue. Each of us should try and put ourselves in that position and ask how we would feel and what we would want. We cannot speak for anyone other than ourselves, but many people in this country want some provision. Social legislation does not come out of the ether; it follows public demand. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, on being so persistent. It is very difficult to take on something as controversial as euthanasia.

I do not think that assisted suicide is the way forward. Assisted suicide should be available if one wants it but it should also be possible to have voluntary euthanasia. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, it can take 30 hours for a person to die after taking pills. Unless a magic pill is produced, we need voluntary euthanasia in this country.