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Dr. Brand: I have not sought advice, but I immediately noticed that the Bill's title includes the words "prevention of euthanasia". However, the Bill does not address that; it deals with acts of omission versus acts of commission. It represents a missed opportunity and I am afraid that I shall vote against Second Reading.

10.53 am

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on introducing this important Bill to the House. She stands sentinel on these ethical questions in the House of Commons and Parliament, and the country should be grateful to her for that. I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer, so I shall not detain the House with any technical matters, either legal or medical, but if war is too important to be left to generals, then the mightiest of ethical issues--life and death--is certainly too important to be left to doctors and lawyers.

Mr. Ashton: Or politicians.

Mr. Galloway: My hon. Friend says, "Or politicians," but we are supposed to represent the country--we are elected to do so--and we should echo the points of view of the British people. We do that, by and large, and certainly no one else can do so.

If I had not believed before I came into the Chamber that these issues were too important to be left to doctors and lawyers, I would by now have had the view that it is profoundly confirmed, particularly by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand)--the general practitioner on the Liberal Democrat Benches--whose speech I found disturbing, alarming and chilling. I was grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) at the point at which I thought the hon. Gentleman was about to incriminate himself. Inspector Knacker of the Yard was about to appear at the Bar of the House, so I was glad that he was diverted from an extraordinary, ill-prepared stream of consciousness. However, it was extremely revealing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) intervened but has left the Chamber--distressed, I think, by the hon. Gentleman's contribution. Personal experience makes me, like my hon. Friend, particularly angry at the hon. Gentleman's speech. My own father died of a stroke. After exactly a week, his doctor put to me the very point that the hon. Gentleman made: treatment should be discontinued. From that moment, I profoundly distrusted my father's doctors and

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harbour a resentment against them still, which is probably unwarranted. He probably would have passed away in any case, but my trust in the doctors was undermined by their suggestion: "Well, it's been a week so perhaps we should stop treating the pneumonia that accompanies the stroke. He is still vegetative"--which I think was a word that the hon. Gentleman used. That profoundly upset me and the rest of my family and led us to distrust each and every thing the doctors said thereafter.

I believe that the Bill is not against the medical profession. A Conservative Member made this point: it has been introduced not because we want to distrust doctors or because we do not respect them, but to buttress and protect their integrity so that no one will be in any doubt as to the motives and purposes from which they speak. It should be supported.

Dr. Julian Lewis: I support what the hon. Gentleman says. I am close friends with a family in the Netherlands, where euthanasia was legalised. The father collapsed from a heart attack and, after a short time, attempts at resuscitation were given up. The family have never been able to trust the doctors again and believe to this day that that decision was made because the general respect for trying hard to save life had been undermined by the introduction of euthanasia. That has had a knock-on effect.

Mr. Galloway: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We have to support the Bill precisely because we do not want to go down the road towards euthanasia.

Ms Drown: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Galloway: May I proceed with this section of my speech?

No one is introducing to the House a Bill to legalise euthanasia. Indeed, almost everyone except cranks says that they are against euthanasia, but it is clear that we have creeping euthanasia in this country--euthanasia by the back door, by court judgments rather than judgments made here in Parliament, and by general practitioners. I am very glad that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight is not my GP. People are making those decisions without any ethical guidelines from the House of Commons and making those judgments without reflection and without taking the temperature of the British public, who should be the ultimate arbiter of such issues.

Ms Drown rose--

Dr. Tonge rose--

Mr. Galloway: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown).

Ms Drown: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I understand and am distressed by the story of his experience with his father, but does he agree that it is equally distressing to think of those who are in a persistent vegetative state for many, many years? Surely many people have the inkling or feeling that they would not want to live like that. Has he a solution to the problem? Perhaps we should discuss living wills to enable people

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regularly to consider what they would want to happen should such an event occur. I feel that that is the solution that we should be discussing.

Mr. Galloway: I understand my hon. Friend's point of view, but there is a problem. My hon. Friend speaks of a persistent vegetative state lasting for years; but after only a week, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight was ready to omit or commit acts, one of the purposes of which would be deliberately to cause death. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby told us that her mother had been in a so-called vegetative state for six months, and had gone on to live for five good years, loving and loved by her family.

There are tremendous ethical problems. I take the old-fashioned, perhaps unfashionable, view that only God can decide--only God is fit to decide--who leads this life and who does not.

Mr. Ashton: Professor Bryan Jennett of Glasgow, a specialist in comas, says that no one in a coma has ever lived for longer than a year--although the longest anyone in a coma has been kept alive is 36 years, according to "The Guinness Book of Records", and up to 2,000 people may be in a coma at any one time.

Mr. Galloway: That is preposterous rubbish. Many people have emerged from comas.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I am amazed that any professor gave such a statistic. Any hon. Member who cites it obviously does so with no knowledge. A woman who went into a coma during childbirth emerged from it after 16 years, to the amazement of the person who found her out of bed.

Mr. Galloway: I am astonished that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who takes an interest in these matters, should cite so obviously bogus a statistic.

There is a whole industry out there full of people who note court decisions, look for any sign of weakness and, for some peculiar and bizarre reason, dedicate themselves to advancing the frontiers of euthanasia. Some make a practice of it in the United States and elsewhere. That is why it is so important for us today to send a message stating clearly where Britain stands on the matter.

Dr. Tonge: The hon. Gentleman says that we should not rely on doctors in this context, and I entirely agree.

Is it not up to every individual to make it clear to doctors and relatives how he or she wants to die? The hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech, which is an excellent argument for advance directives and living wills.

Mr. Galloway: I think that that is beyond the scope of the debate. Let me say in passing, however, that people can change their minds. When people are fit and strong, they may have a take on the issue that they will not necessarily have when they are much further down the line. I do not agree with the hon. Lady, because I do not believe that it is for us or for others to make decisions about whether we live or die.

Dr. Tonge: Many people, whom I respect although I do not happen to agree with them, do not believe in God

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or in life after death. Why, in their lives and their deaths, should something be imposed on them that they simply do not believe?

Mr. Galloway: I am not asking anyone to accept my own religious convictions. The Church is not the arbiter in this Chamber; but we are, and I think that we must reflect the prevailing ethical and moral issues among the population that we represent. Indeed, I think that we do reflect them and will continue to do so, in regard to this and other issues.

I must proceed with my speech. I fear that I am already detaining the House for longer than I meant to. The loophole that the hon. Member for Congleton wants to plug has allowed creeping euthanasia following court judgments, and I commend her for what she wants to do. No one should assume that we are in any way critical of the families of Tony Bland or Janet Johnstone, the grandmother in the Law hospital case in Scotland; I have no doubt that their intentions were good. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, however, and this loophole could open the way to other cases.

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