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Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 12:37 pm on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Viscount Craigavon Viscount Craigavon Crossbench 12:37 pm, 18th July 2014

My Lords, I strongly support the Bill, not because I want my views to prevail but because it gives people who are eligible the choice to decide for themselves. I am grateful to those who have written to us individually, giving their personal and sometime very moving stories, with support for the principles and practice of this Bill. Attitudes and public opinion have changed over time and are changing, but I feel desperately sorry that we are not able to move faster to meet the needs of those who are currently suffering. In my brief contribution, I shall focus on how attitudes have changed and, in my opinion, will continue to change, both in the House and outside. Like others, I look forward to discussing the detail in Committee.

I have to say that I am astonished that we are still being told by some to take comfort that suffering is somehow a virtue. Some people still also take refuge in asserting that palliative care is the answer to everything. Like most people, I wholeheartedly support palliative care and its extension, but we have had numerous descriptions and reports of conditions where in 10% or 15% of cases such care is not successful or not wanted. Individual choice should be respected. We heard two very good examples from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone.

In debates like this, we should say again and again that those who want to believe that suffering is a virtue, and those who want to believe that palliative care solves everything, can claim that belief, but I would say: please do not inflict that on unwilling others. It should not be a premise for any respectable argument, nor to avoid addressing real need or distress.

As the noble and right reverend Lord Carey has written, we should be grateful for the courageous examples of Nicklinson and Paul Lamb, even though their cases may be outside the terms of this Bill. We should be very grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord for leading the break-up of the apparent Orwellian consensus in the Church of England, supported by the first serving bishop to back the right to die, the Bishop of Buckingham, and aided by the clear-speaking Canon Rosie Harper. A YouGov poll of the laity showed a clear majority of the Church of England in favour of such a Bill as this. The opposition to the church leaders is not from secularists, but from within the churches themselves. Similarly, a historical “thus far and no further” policy crumbled on women priests and then on women bishops; the new front of same-sex marriage has still to be resolved. With bishops, as with some medical royal colleges, soundings of the members are not readily reflected at the top. I was grateful for the particularly fine speech of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on this subject.

At the end of this process, in bringing assisted dying, with safeguards, into being, I hope that those on the wrong side of history might want to acknowledge, eventually, the continuing suffering they will be causing.