Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 1:12 pm on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Wheatcroft Baroness Wheatcroft Conservative 1:12 pm, 18th July 2014

My Lords, we have heard that hard cases make bad law, but we have also heard that there are so many hard cases that, as my noble friend Lord Baker said, it may be incumbent on us as legislators to try to find a way in which to alleviate this situation.

My belief in the need for change stems from personal experience. Many noble Lords have spoken about their own experiences, and I am sure that we are all delighted to have heard the happy ending to the story told by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. But my own mother’s experience with leukaemia did not have such a happy ending. She fought it for as long as she could, made the most of her life and adored getting to know her grandchildren—but, in the end, she was in a hospital bed, begging for help. She was in agony. I, too, begged for help; I ran around the hospital trying to find a medic who would do something. But they argued that she was getting as much morphine as they dared to give her, that any more would be illegal and that they could not help.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred to this Bill as offering a loaded gun. If my mother could have grasped that loaded gun, she would have fired it—and, if she could not have done, I think that I would have fired it for her. It was a terrible situation, but it was many years ago and we are now assured that palliative care is so much better. Nevertheless, I do not believe that my mother would have wanted to fade away in what the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred to as dazed oblivion. I think that she would have wanted to say her farewells and choose the time to go with dignity—and I, too, would want that option.

Of course, there need to be very strong protections. I share the horror, itemised by the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, at the apparent sanctioning of gender-based abortions. I am appalled when I hear that the two doctors who, in theory, are required to sanction abortions in this country, apparently routinely sign the forms without ever seeing the mother in question or even her medical records. So this Bill will need to make the most stringent demands on the doctors who are to be involved in potentially accelerating death. It may be that as the Bill goes through Committee there are further safeguards that can be put in. However, I do not think that we should believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, suggested, that we are risking creating a generation of Dr Deaths, keen to bump us all off as soon as possible. Compassion has always been the route of the best doctors—and this Bill is all about compassion.

I struggle with the concept of a mother’s right to choose to end the life of a healthy baby, but I have absolutely no doubt about the right of an individual to choose when their life is very nearly over that they would like to go with dignity.