On the 11th of September 2015, I spoke against the Assisted Dying (No.2) Bill in the House of Commons during the Assisted Dying (No.2) Bill second reading debate. You can read my speech below.
I am afraid that I cannot support this Bill. My concern is that we will fundamentally change the way that our society thinks about and deals with the terminally ill, severely disabled people and the vulnerable, troubled and elderly.
My mum died suddenly and unexpectedly, riddled by cancer, but I know that my mum, faced with a terminal prognosis in a world where there was the possibility of state-assisted suicide, acceptable and accepted by society, would have tormented herself during her last months with the question of when she should ask for that button to be pressed. She would have worried about the stresses that my sister and I would have endured, she would have worried about the weight of her care being shouldered by the nurses and the doctors, and she would have been anxious that folk would think that she was consuming too many resources, selfishly staying alive, costing money, when she could and should just die.
My mum was not vulnerable. She was not alone or a depressive. She was dearly loved; and yet I know that the mere existence of legal and assisted suicide would have placed an enormous burden on her. But what of those without a loving family? What of those elderly people—let’s face it, they do exist—with families more interested in the cost of care, and its impact on their dwindling inheritance, than the priceless gift of life? Would not some of my more vulnerable constituents think that they ought to take a course of action because it is available and despite the safeguards in the Bill, which I acknowledge have been carefully crafted? Can we be absolutely sure that they would not be pressured into it?
It is naive to believe that we can prevent an elderly, expensive or asset-rich relative being encouraged, coerced or emotionally blackmailed into taking their own life. And if just one person makes that decision to end their life as a result of such pressure, that would be a tragedy.
This Bill seeks to provide the right to assistance in dying only to those who are terminally ill. I believe supporters of the Bill have real integrity and do not intend its scope to be extended further. But if the Bill is passed, I believe that its scope will be extended, partly by case law, to apply to more people. Holland introduced assisted dying for the terminally ill in 2002. Initially, hardly any patients with psychiatric illnesses or dementia sought suicide. Now, just 13 years later, assisted suicide is sought and granted to elderly, lonely or bereaved people. Pressure for doctors to accede to requests comes from patients and relatives, as I believe it will here.
I am against this Bill because I worry that the mere existence of the process of assisted dying will make the vulnerable more vulnerable. It will change fundamentally the relationship between a patient and a doctor, and I oppose it most strenuously, because I think it will fundamentally, slowly but inexorably, change our society’s attitude to death and the dying, with a creeping invidious expectation that our elderly, infirm or disabled should take themselves out of the igloo of old, and die a dignified death, leaving the young, fit and able unencumbered by their burdensome, difficult, messy, expensive, pain-filled and challenging lives.
Life is precious. But the virtues in a society that set it apart as wholesome, decent and ethical are those which nurture and value that life. They are the qualities of tolerance, understanding, forbearance and, dare I say it, love, which are such precious commodities. They engender and sustain compassion and ensure a growing humanity, a more civilised society for the living, that shields and truly values life.