My Lords, I support this Bill. The primary reason is purely personal and I can speak only on a personal basis. I would certainly wish to have the option provided by this Bill if I ever find myself in the quite limited situation that it addresses, although I fervently hope that that will never be the case. I believe that I am responsible for my own life and how I live it, including the right to end it if I find it no longer bearable.
My mother and mother-in-law both had long-drawn-out deaths, which in the case of my mother-in-law was accompanied by great suffering. In the end, both took the only way out that they could by starving themselves to death. Neither would have benefited from this limited Bill, but their experience has been crucial in forming my views. So have the stories I have heard of so many others who have endured deaths of almost unimaginable pain and misery for themselves and their families because they have not had it in their power to end it and cannot legally call on others to help them. I think particularly of an article that Prue Leith wrote in the Telegraph some time ago about the death of her brother.
A key question for me is whether the safeguards in the Bill are strong enough to protect vulnerable, elderly, sick or disabled people, or those who may be open to some form of coercion to persuade them to die. To be eligible for an assisted death, a person must have a prognosis of six months or less of remaining life. They must be mentally competent, have a “clear and settled intention” to die, have made their decision voluntarily without external pressure, be well informed about alternative options and be given time to reconsider their decision, which can be revoked at any time. All those requirements must be certified by two doctors acting independently. One of the merits of the Bill is that these judgments have to be made before the death can take place, rather than any suspicious circumstances having to be investigated afterwards.
In my judgment, the proposed safeguards seem to provide an adequate basis to ensure that the Bill can be used only in the limited circumstances for which it is designed. No doubt they will be thoroughly tested and I hope improved in Committee, which I welcome. No one can have listened to many of the powerful, deeply felt and well informed speeches today on both sides of the issue without seriously re-examining and retesting their own views. Similar arrangements to those in the Bill have worked well in Oregon for 17 years. The number of assisted deaths, at 0.2% of all deaths, is not out of line with what one might expect as reasonable. Research shows that the law is working safely. Other states are beginning to follow Oregon’s lead.
We have been clearly told by the Supreme Court that the present law is not working and that parliamentary guidance is needed. This Bill gives people in the very last stages of life the option of making a voluntary decision to shorten the process of dying that they feel they can no longer bear. Above all, the Bill seeks to offset the appalling cruelty of forcing people and their families quite unnecessarily to endure an agonising final period of life in the face of their often desperate pleas to help them to end their suffering. It is surely time to listen to those pleas.