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Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 1:16 pm on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Grey-Thompson Baroness Grey-Thompson Crossbench 1:16 pm, 18th July 2014

My Lords, the Bill that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is proposing is simply not fit for purpose. However, this debate is an important one. It is too simplistic to suggest that this is simply a debate about compassion versus suffering. Making law is not a popularity contest, and we should not pass legislation based on emotion; it is about protecting the whole of society, not just the strong-willed and self-confident. The Supreme Court urged your Lordships’ Chamber to consider whether the law should be changed; it did not say that the current law does not work.

This Bill proposes a fundamental change in the relationship between doctors, patients and families. We have to recognise that not everyone’s motives are altruistic; not everyone has a caring family. People can be coerced. We do not live in a halcyon world where choice generally exists for everyone. Our position here in your Lordships’ Chamber gives us an extraordinary ability to make choices over every single aspect of our lives. We are privileged; we should not assume that everyone is in the same position as us. It is difficult to measure whether choice is being freely given or not. Will two doctors really have time accurately to assess this? For many people, life is something that happens to them or even passes them by. They have no choice—and, soon, they could have less.

The Bill suggests that people could be offered other alternatives—but what if you live in the wrong postcode or no alternative is available? Then there appears to be only one choice. In essence, it would be licensing assisted suicide within the National Health Service. The Bill does not contain safeguards; it has initial criteria, and no detail how those will operate. The Secretary of State may, if he wishes, issue a code of practice.

Some in favour of this Bill are expecting a Hollywood death, where you slip away, versus what is otherwise portrayed as a bad death. People need to know the practicalities of what this change in law could bring. Will it be at the exact time of their choosing? Will it be at home, or with family close by, or are there going to be a number of Dignitas-style facilities around the country? Peter from Redcar wrote to me and said that he believed it was the first step to euthanasia, especially as it coincides with current economic times.

We continually hear that this Bill is based on Oregon, not on Holland or Belgium, and we have been told that it is a modest Bill for a handful of people. Oregon is smaller than Yorkshire. Of course, the numbers are small, but there is a rising trend, and no audit is carried out about how requests for assisted suicide are handled. In 2012, the population of Oregon was 3 million, compared to 56 million in England and Wales—so we could be looking at 1,600 people per annum. This is not a modest number. I was very interested to listen to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on Radio 4 this morning, and I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment—