My Lords, I support the Bill and come from a background of active churchwardens and general practitioners. I am now 80 and am beginning to do a bit of forward planning.
My doctor forebears, in a much less regulated world, applied common sense when coping with life and death. They applied the Hippocratic oath, but they also had at the back of their mind:
“Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive
Officiously to keep alive”.
Rules designed to prevent inappropriate outcomes often prevent doctors doing what they think is right, leaving little room for natural morality for fear of prosecution—a point well made by many other speakers today. I hope that this Bill, if it passes—which I believe it will, no doubt with amendments—will help them with their duties and enable them to be even more compassionate.
However, like other noble Lords, I have received many heartfelt letters from those who are against these measures. The common theme is that we must not introduce the Bill because the vulnerable might—I repeat, might—suffer. I understand the concern, but does it not beg the question what one is to do about those who are suffering both mentally and physically? Should their needs not also be looked at and should they be denied? However, so anxious are those who oppose the Bill to prevent the vulnerable suffering, which I understand, that they sent me a series of letters. Perhaps I may quote from some of them. The key view that they promoted—like the reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol, who I am sure is not a callous man—was that “suffering should not trump all other considerations”. I felt that this was a choice example of preaching what you do not practise. That is carrying the precautionary principle too far. Others have rights, too, and I think that the relief of suffering should trump all other considerations, and that is as near an absolute as one is likely to get. That is why this Bill is important.
When I was ennobled, I chose as my motto, “No freedom without choice”. People should have the right to choose. Freedom begins with freedom of choice and should be extended as widely as possible into all areas of society at all levels. The proposals in the Bill, sensibly regulated, will give greater freedom to people to control their lives—and whose life is it anyway? They will relieve suffering, both mental and physical. The prospect of palliative care in itself gives no reassurance against suffering, but the provisions in the Bill can give that reassurance if the option is either used or unused.
This is an important Bill. It achieves many things. It advances choice; it deepens compassion; and it reduces suffering. We should support it.