My Lords, having listened to all the speeches so far, a point occurs to me that has not yet been made. This is that many, perhaps most, noble Lords who believe in a better life hereafter are against the Bill, while many of those who may believe that death is the end seem to be rather in favour of it. I am happy to exclude from this analysis the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, and congratulate them on their courageous and powerful speeches.
However, I would ask other Christian noble Lords and the faith communities generally: why are they so afraid of death? We are all afraid of death, of course. We all know people who have said during their lives that if the day comes when they can no longer look after themselves, they want to be moved on, but who, when they get there, want to cling on to the bitter end. This Bill is helpful because it allows those who are suffering so much that they no longer want to cling on to choose death.
I felt I should speak today because some 37 years ago, I had what is usually called a near-death experience. I was having a two-hour operation, when the anaesthetic steadily failed although the paralysing drug continued to work. In that circumstance, when you cannot scream or even flick an eyelid as the pain grows steadily to the point of endurance and beyond and you know that it will get even worse, there are three routes open to you. You can go mad; you can die; or you can go somewhere indescribably wonderful. Of course, noble and Europhile Lords will have concluded long ago that I took the route to madness; and noble and scientific and humanist Lords may say that my experience of going somewhere which was all the opposite of pain, which was of limitless peace, light, justice, warmth, compassion, love and much more, was merely the release of endorphins in the brain. Who knows? They may be right. Their lack of faith makes them need that sort of explanation.
But for me, and for thousands of others who have had the same sort of experience, they are wrong. Where we went was and remains real.
I fear that those noble and Christian Lords who oppose the Bill because it breaches the sanctity of human life may not have got that quite right either. I am no theologian, but it seems to me that Jesus Christ was somewhat careless with his own earthly life. After all, he did not need to go to Gethsemane and the cross. He knew that he would be on his way to a terribly painful death; and, perhaps, he was not so sure of his resurrection either, when he cried out from the cross,
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”.
I hope that this does not irritate my Christian friends too much. After 37 years ruminating on my experience, I have other heretical doubts, such as whether God really is almighty, or whether good may have always been equal to evil. It seems to me that if Christianity and other faiths were less sure of the eventual supremacy of their God, or the eternal force of good, they might do more to fight the eternal force of evil, or the devil. And the answer to that otherwise unanswerable question, “Why does a loving, all-powerful God permit such terrible suffering in our world?”, might be that he does not; it is just that he cannot stop it; he needs our help in the eternal struggle.
I suggest that the Bill gives us the chance to help to reduce just a little of that suffering, by allowing those who want to relieve their own agony to do just that. We and they should be confident that they are moving on to somewhere immeasurably better. I support the Bill.