Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:32 pm on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat 6:32 pm, 18th July 2014

My Lords, I am sure that I am not the only late speaker who has had to tear up their speech and start again after many of the points I had intended to make have been made by others. As a disabled and Christian woman, I support the Bill. I was very moved by the words of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Richardson of Calow, setting the very difficult issues around death in God’s love and compassion. But I want to use my four minutes to explode some of the myths that we have heard in the debate. My noble friend Lord Hylton said that those with chronic diseases are particularly worried about the Bill, while the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said that disabled people must not be made to feel worthless. Well, this disabled woman with a chronic life-limiting illness, rheumatoid arthritis, does not feel worthless or worried because the safeguards offered in the Bill are so tightly drawn that it would take major legislation to amend them.

Some of the speeches in your Lordships’ House today have either ignored those safeguards or tried to say that it does not matter what they are—that it will be a slippery slope towards euthanasia. But these safeguards are even stronger than in Oregon, and much more tightly drawn than in the Netherlands. That is as it should be. We need to reassure people about where the boundaries lie. Not many people know that, very rarely, rheumatoid arthritis can be fatal. Although I did not know her, I admired Emma Suddaby, a blogger with the

Shropshire Star who had long-term, aggressive and then final-stage disease. She died earlier this year, and around the time she was told that she was terminally ill, she wrote the following:

“I don’t think anyone is afraid of dying, what they are afraid of is ending up in a hospital bed, being hoisted from here to there, legs akimbo, dignity ditto, pain creeping ever higher up the scale and only then realising there is only so much a doctor can do—a very scary realisation, let me tell you.

I can only liken it to being trapped in a tall building which is going up in flames. Desperately fleeing up one corridor and down another, finding exit doors, joyfully wrenching them open only to find them locked and bolted, all escape routes barred. It’s a desperate feeling. It would be enough for some people just to know there is a way open to them, should they need it.

Most, I’m sure would end up not taking their leave until nature intended. It would be enough for them just to know there is a way out should things get too ugly”.

Emma’s words summarise the experience found in Oregon. Of every 200 terminally ill patients who go through the approval process with doctors, counselling and discussion with their families, only two get the prescription filled out, and only one will use the drugs to end their life.

Every doctor and nurse I know wants palliative care to be available for terminally ill patients, and our hospice movement is the best in the world. However, it is not universal, and some diseases mean that death can be very difficult and unpleasant. In this day and age, with more patient involvement and understanding of their illnesses than ever before, the Bill allows them, with real safeguards, to have death in the way that they want, having had the opportunity to say farewell to those they love.

That was not the case for a close family friend of ours who suffered from late-stage MS, who killed himself—in the traditional way, with plastic bags and barbiturates—when his wife was away for two days, because he was so fearful that she would be arrested and charged with helping him. He had wanted to be open with her, but could not, so he died alone, and she found him. The Bill will allow us to be honest—with ourselves, our families, our doctors and as a society. It will allow the dying individual the choice, should he or she wish it, and will provide law to prevent abuse by others.