My Lords, I, too, echo the opinion of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss: this has been a fascinating debate and there is more to come. There have been inspiring and powerful speeches on both sides.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, drew attention to the article that I wrote last week in the Daily Mail about my change of mind on assisted dying. I regret enormously the shock that I have given friends, some in this House, who disagree with my conclusions, but how can I really repent of a decision that I believe more closely models and reflects God’s mercy and love? I have noted in recent years that those who accept the traditional prohibition on assisted dying tend—this used to be what I did—to conflate and simplify the terrible physical, mental and spiritual experiences of those who make that long and costly journey to Dignitas in Zurich and the normal experience of terminally ill people in our hospices. Like noble Lords, I have the greatest admiration for the work of our hospices, but even the best palliative care does not meet all needs. Dr Rajesh Munglani, the well known expert in pain management, writes that he frequently sees cases of excruciating pain that are unresponsive to powerful analgesics and can be alleviated only by very heavy sedation, to the point of unconsciousness.
I have, frankly, been shocked by the experience of those with whom I have discussed this. Let me give an illustration. Joan—not her real name—wrote to me about her act of assisting her close friend to die. Her friend was a woman suffering unbearable agonies, double incontinence and helplessness. She begged and pleaded with Joan over a number of years to help her to die. She was too ill to travel to Zurich. Joan very reluctantly agreed and, one evening, helped her friend to die. It was not an easy death because the lady was unable to swallow easily and the dose went down with difficulty. After the death, she phoned the police, was arrested and went through the experience that the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, illustrated. Eventually the DPP dropped the charges against her, but it is such cases that drive the demand for change.
Opinion polls show that at least 80% of the British population think that terminally ill adults should have the choice of an assisted death. That number includes many Christian people who believe, as I do now, that being a Christian is quite compatible with supporting the Bill. We need to bear that 80% in mind when we hear the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, saying, rightly, that our mailbag illustrates almost the other side of this. That figure of 80% of the population means that all our churches should listen to the heartlands and to what people are saying to us.
When suffering is so great that some patients, already knowing that they are at the end of life, make repeated pleas to die, it seems a denial of that loving compassion which is the hallmark of Christianity to refuse to allow them to fulfil their own clearly stated request—after, of course, a proper process of safeguards has been observed. If we truly love our neighbours as ourselves, how can we deny them the death that we would wish for ourselves in such a condition? That is what I would want.
As to those who chide me—and they have—by saying that my argument and change of heart are light on theological backing, let me tell them what my theology is all about. It is about accompanying those very sick and dying people to that place where they feel most abandoned, where they are already experiencing their own Calvary or Golgotha, and where they need us to be with them to help them find peace of mind and to help them on that journey. If that is not theology of the best and purest kind, I do not know what is. That is why I support the Bill.