Lyn Brown

Member of Parliament for West Ham

Assisted Suicide - March 2010

Every now and again, I use this column to explain my position on issues which are not party political, but which form part of our national conversation. 

One of the most heart-breaking issues being debated in the local and national media at the moment is ‘assisted suicide’ and there is no easy answer to the concerns being raised.

My guess is that our community is divided on this issue – some of you will want me to champion and vote for your right to die in a place and at a time that you choose, should you find yourself incapacitated, struck down by a deadly disease or a victim of a tragic accident or assault.  Others will argue that life is sacred and that our response to such tragedies should be compassion and care, providing the dying with a living dignity.

There is a number of high-profile campaigners who are seeking to change the law to allow assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness.  It does seem, at the moment, that these high profile campaigns are capturing majority support.

It is natural that older people, and people with progressive degenerative diseases, worry about the burden that they place on those they love and the people that care for them.  Having worked, albeit for a very short time, in an elderly people’s home, I know that the word most frequently used by the elderly residents was “sorry”.  They are sorry for the inconvenience they are causing for the carer:  sorry for the burden they think they are being.  It is heartbreaking.

To use a cliché, I believe that the ways in which we treat the most vulnerable in our community is a mark of how civilised we truly are,  I fear that if we change the law to make assisted suicide more acceptable, we will begin subtly to change the presumption about our expectation of the elderly or terminally ill and elderly, disabled and vulnerable people would begin to feel pressured.

Instead of apologising for being a burden, they, and possibly we, would begin to ask when they should put themselves, and us, out of the misery of caring for them.

By taking steps, however small, towards legalising assisted suicide, I fear we could place terrible pressure on the most vulnerable.  I genuinely believe that a relaxation of the law will leave the elderly, the disabled and the terminally ill more vulnerable.

And I fear that by making “assisted suicide” easier we may make it easier for more unscrupulous members of society to rid themselves of unwanted or inconvenient impediments, to gain access to the money or house that a dead relative would leave behind.  

When this debate finally comes to Parliament, and an MP seeks to change the law, I am afraid I am likely to be on the side of no change.  I do want to ensure that every “assisted suicide” is tested to ensure that the motivations of the family member were truly compassionate and the articulated, unprompted desire of the deceased.

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