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Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 11:16 am on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Mawhinney Lord Mawhinney Conservative 11:16 am, 18th July 2014

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for introducing this Bill. I say that as someone who is not in favour of it and will do his best to see it amended and subsequently defeated. He is right to identify the fact that this is now a major public issue that needs to be taken seriously and to be resolved. I came much later than he did to the view that this Bill should go into Committee. I initially thought that we should take care of it today, but I am persuaded that it should go to Committee stage to be examined. The danger of this Bill lies in the detail, not in the generality.

Not for the first time, my noble friend Lord Tebbit and I have similar thoughts. When I read about the safeguards and how important and how good they would be, my mind also turned to abortion and the 1967 Act. Exactly the same arguments were deployed then as are being deployed now in relation to doctors. In that case, seven grounds had to be used. The Library tells me that in 2013 there were 185,000 abortions in England and Wales, and that 36% of them were not for the first time. As regards the six months proposal, my mind turned to the Lockerbie bomber.

We have twice been told that more than 70% of the public think that this is a good idea. But we have not yet been told that in the very same polls, 47% thought that it would lead to abuse of elderly and people who are dying. That abuse led me to my second thought. I will not repeat stories from letters that we all have received, except for one paragraph from a lawyer, whom I do not know, who suffers from multiple sclerosis. He wrote:

“Vulnerable people, especially those with progressive conditions, can feel a real burden on the people around them. Diagnoses can be very frightening and isolating. Such individuals will undoubtedly feel pressure to end their lives if Parliament decides to pass this Bill”.

Last year, my beloved mother died. She spent the last 18 months of her life in a home. She died of Alzheimer’s and increasing dementia. She kept telling us that she was a burden. I like to think she did that in the confidence of knowing that our love for her was such that, however big the burden, it was but nothing compared to the love that we shared, and had shared, throughout all our lives. I thought to myself, if my mother thinks she is a burden, in her context and with the love of her family, how many others will think that they are burdens and will not be met by similar support and love?

The one thing that is missing from this debate—and I was glad the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York spoke about it—is that there is no philosophy of life in this Bill. I am a Christian. I have always tried to take my faith seriously. I believe that life stems from and is a gift from God, and that this belief, widely shared, should govern our views on the end of life as it pervades the thoughts of many at the wonder of birth.