Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 11:58 am on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 11:58 am, 18th July 2014

My Lords, sometimes we perhaps overestimate our ability to bring about events. Everybody wants to see suffering diminished, but this House cannot end suffering. We cannot bring an end to suffering; we cannot bring an end to poverty. Therefore, what is it that we are trying to do? We are trying to help; we are trying to bring, I suspect, the best that we can do in the legislative framework to help the human condition. But we are requiring a specific group of people to do it in this Bill. We are requiring the medical profession in the broadest sense to be the people who implement what is proposed in the Bill.

Two weeks ago today, I had the privilege of attending a graduation ceremony, at which my daughter was graduating in medicine, along with 300 other students. It was a great privilege to see those young people, who had put five years of their lives behind the idea that they could go out into the world to help and bring healing to many people for the rest of their lives. Those people have not been taught or trained in how to bring life to an end.

I come from a region where we have seen the long-term consequences of asking a group of people to do a specific job, such as protect the community. Many years later—and we shall see this with our troops in Afghanistan—those people began to show the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. I fear that asking a very small group of our community to carry out something that is almost the very antithesis of what they have been trained for could, in the long term, have serious consequences for those individuals. I just do not believe that it is possible to bring precision, however well meaning it might be, to this situation.

We have 14 days, six months, six days, two doctors and one health professional: what does all that mean? It means that, ultimately, some doctors will specialise in nothing else because so many will not do it. I fear that we have not thought through the consequences for the health professionals who will be at the sharp end of this. However much any of us could face, we do not know what we will face.

It is not only older people who will be affected by the Bill. Many young people will find that they have conditions that become terminal. We must think through what it means for the people we ask to implement this legislation. They will be the people at the sharp end. Have we really thought through the consequences? What will we teach them in university in a few years’ time? What will we be training them for? It will be the opposite of and go against the atmosphere of hope that I was privileged to see two weeks ago. Will we damage that and, ultimately, damage those young people?