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Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 2:12 pm on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Richardson of Calow Baroness Richardson of Calow Crossbench 2:12 pm, 18th July 2014

My Lords, most of you will know that I am a Christian and an ordained Minister of the Methodist Church, but I am speaking today personally because I cannot speak for my church. In fact, it would be impossible and perhaps improper to do so because there are different opinions within that church, firmly held, as there are between all churches, faith communities, the public in general and the medical professions.

We are honourable people. We all know the same things and look at the same issues. We all face similar situations in the deaths of our own families and friends and yet we come to different conclusions about what compassion means in these situations. That is why this is a difficult debate today, but it is also why it is essential.

If the Bill is not passed, that does not mean the end of assisted dying. It will still go on unregulated, unrecorded and capable of causing great guilt and shame to those who are caught up in it and who risk suspicion and prosecution. The dying will still request and plead for help in getting rid of a body that has become a burden to them. Sympathetic doctors and distraught families will collude in bringing about death. Some will take matters into their own hands and die alone so as not to implicate others. Some will die sooner than they need to because they fear losing the capacity to be able to act later. Compassionate people will still risk prosecution and police and courts will still agonise over the motives of surviving family members.

I am a Christian. I believe in the sanctity of life. I believe that life is a gift of God to be used responsibly with respect and generosity for the good of others. We live in relationships and a community and our choices affect others as well. When the Bible says there is,

“a time to be born, and a time to die”,

we are not passive players in that. We manipulate conception, we permit abortion, we interfere with the processes of birth and we postpone death by surgical intervention and drug therapy, yet we refuse to allow the means which are there to reduce the length of the dying process, even when days of suffering and distress are not alleviated by devoted care.

Many people have spoken about the fear that the elderly and vulnerable will be put under pressure to die and not to be a burden. Of course, that is totally wrong and would be an abuse of the intention of the Bill. But it is not a reason for it not to be passed. It is the reason for it to be addressed vigorously in Committee so that we can make it as strong as it could be.

I am entirely in agreement with my noble friend Lady Warnock. Why should it be considered shameful for me to wish to protect my family and friends from the burden of watching me slowly die? If I am diagnosed with a terminal illness from which I will certainly die in a few months, I would wish to protect my family from having to watch me, from putting their lives on hold and making a rota to make sure that somebody is with me at all times. I would want to protect them from having to bear my anger, frustration and sheer peevishness, which often accompanies pain. How much better it would be to be able to say goodbye, give thanks, forgive and heal resentments, and share the precious moment of death together, and not for me to be left out of the wake that will happen when I have died. Is that not something that we would all choose to do—to die at home with our family around us? For the elderly, death often comes as a friend and for the religious it comes with hope and promise.

This Bill is an enabling Bill. For those who do not meet its qualifications or meet its qualifications but choose not to die, it is irrelevant. But for those people who want to die and wish to do so within the law, it is crucial. It will not be accessed by great numbers of people, and as we have heard already from the experience of Oregon, many of those who request help and have been given permission to use it do not feel the need to do so because they have been given the security, comfort and greater confidence to continue to live. But we need to make the regulations as strong as we can to put the safeguards in so that others may not fear this, and we need to do it in Committee.