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Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 11:25 am on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of The Earl of Glasgow The Earl of Glasgow Liberal Democrat 11:25 am, 18th July 2014

My Lords, I have long been involved in the campaign to see assisted dying legalised, but I am reluctant in this time-sensitive Second Reading debate to repeat the arguments that I made in earlier debates. Rather, I have chosen excerpts from three of the many letters that I have received from the public, which put the case for assisted dying far better than I can.

A lady GP called Jane Robson said:

“I have been a GP all my working life … I have seen and welcomed the development of palliative care, the Hospice movement, and the improved drugs and facilities available for the care of the dying. However the fact remains that for some people the process of dying is still horrific. It is not just a question of pain, but the slow decay of the body—the bedsores, the ulcers, the intolerable itch, the failure of the gut, the liver, the kidneys, with all those attendant miseries, not to mention the loss of autonomy and dignity. Many people, who have seen a relative go through this, wish that the sufferer had had some choice at the end, and would wish it for themselves in the same situation—I certainly do”.

This is from another lady. She said:

“Should my health deteriorate, and I become terminally ill, I dread, not only the physical suffering I might have to endure, but also the emotional suffering my family would have to bear, in order that the law, as it currently stands, is adhered to”.

She continues:

“If this Bill is passed there will be fewer dying adults, and their families, having to face unnecessary suffering at the end of their lives. It will also allow mentally competent adults, like myself, or for that matter, any member of my own family, to request life-ending medication from a doctor, which they would self administer at a time of their own choosing … I would like to re-iterate, above all, that this Bill will give dying adults like myself, peace of mind that the choice of assisted dying is available. That I, myself, will not have to continue to live daily in dread of the suffering that I fear the most”.

I have one final letter, if I may. It states:

“I know that I, and numerous others, will feel much happier and confident to know that we are able to decide when to end our own lives should we become terminally ill. I believe no more people will die because of a change in the law but far fewer will suffer unnecessarily. It is a tremendously important Bill and I believe is supported by an overwhelming majority of the public”.

I could not put the case better than any of those three ladies.

I get very angry when those who oppose the Bill misrepresent what it is actually proposing and fail to mention how limited its aims intentionally are. It applies only to those who are already terminally ill yet still in sound mind who want, as we all surely do, some control or say in the manner of their own death. It has nothing to do with coercing vulnerable old people into killing themselves. Yet our opponents use emotive words such as “legalised killing” or “euthanasia” and talk about this being a slippery slope that could lead to the eventual demise of the frail, disabled or mentally ill. No, it does not. No, it is not. The Bill is about personal choice and the alleviation of unnecessary suffering—the choice to decide how, where and, to a small extent, when you want to die.

Finally, it is worth pointing out, as my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed has done, what has been demonstrated in those countries and American states that allow assisted dying. When a dying patient has the peace of mind of knowing that he has the option of an assisted death, only one in three actually takes the pills that will put an end to their suffering. The will to live, we must remember, is very strong. The Bill is not pressuring, encouraging or inviting anybody to die. It is giving them a choice that they do not have at present.