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Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 5:42 pm on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington Crossbench 5:42 pm, 18th July 2014

My Lords, I too would like to draw attention to the amount of correspondence that I have received, as well as the number of telephone calls and conversations in the street. There is no doubt whatever that this is one of the major issues of our time, so I too commend those who brought this Bill in front of the House. I am in general agreement on the issue of assisted dying if it preserves dignity in death and reduces pain and suffering—the choice of a so-called good death. However, there have to be proper safeguards, safeguards which have to be credible and tested.

There is undoubtedly confusion about what this Bill is about, some of which has been addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. Some 12 months ago, my family and I had to make a difficult decision about a very close loved one, as to whether she should be resuscitated. We decided against. In conversations with my family and others, some have said to me that this Bill addresses those issues and is similar in that respect. I do not believe that it is, but we have to bear that in mind.

What is certain is that there needs to be certainty in the law. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, the previous DPP, has basically plugged the gap. He did a superb job in his directions as the DPP, leaving the police, as my noble friend Lord Blair of Boughton illustrated, with some difficult decisions in sudden and suspicious deaths. As a junior and then a senior detective I went to hundreds of sudden and suspicious deaths, and it was one of the more difficult things that I had to judge and decide on. We in this place should be providing a certainty in law that gives those at the very front line of these issues—the police officers who go to these instances and are rightly called on to investigate—a certainty in how to deal with them. I believe that that is not too much to ask for.

Although I support the Bill in general, I have concerns about a prediction of six months of life. I have seen many cases, and heard noble Lords relate many cases, that demonstrate the uncertainties surrounding such predictions. I have massive admiration for the medical profession, but it is a nonsense that people can say that someone will definitely die within six months. That needs to be addressed.

I worry about the elderly being pressurised. I worry about the question of the agreement of two doctors being a sufficient safeguard. The Abortion Act and what has happened since is in itself evidence that that is not good enough. I firmly believe that there should be some judicial safeguards to what we do. But the Bill must go forward. It must go to Committee. It must be discussed. We have been given the responsibility of delivering answers to safeguard the dignity of the vulnerable and the dying. To do nothing is not an option.