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Mr. Ashton: May I put the record straight? The Alzheimer's Society, in a letter that it must have sent to the hon. Gentleman--it sent a copy to all hon. Members--stated:


It is signed by Harry Cayton, chief executive.

Mr. Galloway: It is beyond my imagination how anyone could say that the Bill would be against the interests of sufferers of Alzheimer's disease. At the beginning of my speech, I said that, on this and other occasions, the hon. Member for Congleton has stood sentinel on ethical questions, and I believe that she is guarding the interests of Alzheimer's patients and of the elderly. I am astonished to hear that Age Concern and the Alzheimer's Society are opposing the Bill.

Mr. Blunt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Galloway: No; I really have detained the House too long, and should like to bring my remarks to a close.

The Bill is narrowly drawn and brief, and it should command support--at least sufficient support to get it into Committee, where the doctors and lawyers can have a field day. Nevertheless, the Bill's general principle should be able to command the support of a wide section of the House, because it reflects the views and values of a wide section of British society. I again congratulate the hon. Lady on promoting it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I appeal for brief speeches, as many hon. Ladies and Gentlemen have applied to speak.

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11.22 am

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and the intention of making a brief speech is one that has shown itself elusive in today's debate. I shall do my best.

Like other hon. Members, I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on introducing this debate on a deeply important subject. Every speech that has been made today has demonstrated how important it is that the Bill should be sent to Committee, so that hon. Members--the elected representatives of the people of the United Kingdom--have an opportunity to focus on an issue that has so far been too much the domain of the medical profession and of my own profession, the legal profession.

I come from a family of doctors, on my wife's side and my children's side, and lawyers, on my father's side, and I have spent hours discussing the vital subject dealt with in the Bill. The Bill provides a real opportunity to try to take a few steps forwards in a sphere in which I fear we shall otherwise move backwards.

I cannot support my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton fully in her Bill as it is currently drafted. I have real worries about the effect of clause 1, and its reference to "purpose" or "one of the purposes", and the Bill's intention as stated in the long title. I believe, for example, that it would, as she rather suggested, negate the Tony Bland case. That case was taken all the way to the House of Lords, where amicus curiae and leading barristers, putting every point of view, produced a sensible result in those very difficult circumstances. Although I do not want that to be undercut, I also sympathise with many of my hon. Friend's fears. I should therefore briefly state where I am coming from.

I have always been passionately opposed to euthanasia in the broad sense. If we allow any notion that the United Kingdom will permit euthanasia, as that word is generally understood, there is a huge danger that we would induce the fear that, should any one of us become a patient, we would not receive devoted treatment in accordance with the Hippocratic oath. If we go down that road, we shall devalue and undermine the respect and affection in which we rightly hold the medical profession. There are very real dangers there.

From a moral standpoint, I believe that it is our moral and our religious duty to see life through to the end. There are some qualifications to that, and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand)--who is himself a general practitioner--made some very valuable comments. We look to doctors, in extremis, to help us on our way. When it comes to terminal cancer or some other terminal disease in which we are in great pain, I think that all of us hope that doctors will give us a little bit more morphine, rather than a little bit less, and enable us to slip away quietly and with dignity.

In the Bill's literal wording, however, the doctor's purpose in doing so must be to hasten death, even if by only a few hours, days or weeks. However, that is the stated purpose. In legislation, it is vital that we get the wording right and that we do not undermine those particular aspects.

There is certainly need for guidance on the issue to the United Kingdom medical profession generally, and I congratulate the British Medical Association on seeking to give that guidance. However, just as we lawyers have

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produced guidance running to hundreds of pages, but very few helpful principles--as in the Tony Bland case and other cases--the BMA's guidance, as published on its website, which must run to 70 pages of extremely indigestible material, makes life very difficult for doctors.

The guidance genuinely raises the type of fears about which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), with his vision of life from the heights of Highgate cemetery and elsewhere, has rightly warned us. There are genuine fears that medical treatment will be withheld when it should not be, and he gave a valuable example.

There has been too much in the press recently--I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton realises this and rightly drew attention to it--about elderly people, either in hospital or in old people's homes, not being provided with basic food and drink in order to hasten death. I do not know whether those stories are true, but there is no smoke without fire. It is very important that valuable guidance be given on the issue.

I am not a doctor, as is perfectly clear, but I think that there is a significant difference between going through all the business of putting tubes down people's throats, gastric operations to get food into their stomachs and, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight said, flooding--nearly drowning someone with water to try to get water down their throat, in a very undignified manner--and deliberately withholding ordinary food and drink that the patient might be able to take.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that some of the cases that have been in the media recently, if they are true, might have been caused, at least in part, by the Bland judgment?

Sir Nicholas Lyell: My hon. Friend may be right to the extent that, across the country, people have different views on the issue. Some people believe--wrongly, in my view--that we should go further down the route towards euthanasia. I think that we have to be very careful about that.

Dr. Brand: Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that care should never be withdrawn? Tony Bland, for example, was cared for in his last days and weeks. We are really talking about quite different matters: one is caring; one is not actively treating.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who made the point very well in his speech. In those circumstances, I would be glad to have him as my general practitioner. I hope that he will follow the logic of his argument and help to ensure that the Bill is considered in Committee. The BMA and the country need the Bill to be considered further so that the matter can be followed through carefully.

At this stage, I cannot promise my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton that I will support the Bill on Third Reading, as I believe that, in its present form, it is too restrictive. None the less, I believe that she has done the House and the country a real service--and a brave one--in tackling one of the most important issues of our day and our generation. I understand that she is taking advice from very able people in the medical and legal professions and in the legal academic world, and I am

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grateful for their willingness to consider carefully the points of detail that we wish to discuss in Committee and on Report. On that basis, I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

11.31 am

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I too congratulate the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on introducing the Bill. It is important as it seeks to close the floodgates on what might have been the consequences of the Bland decision--almost indiscriminate euthanasia in certain cases.

I listened carefully to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and I agree that there may be scope for producing a clearer definition. However, we need to establish purpose. That is a fundamental issue. If the purpose is to hasten someone's death, the Bill says that it is wrong. I agree. It is wrong ethically and morally and it is contrary to the common Christian tradition and that of other religions. It is also a defiance of the European convention on human rights, which we were so proud to put into our legislation 18 months ago. We look forward to its proper incorporation.

I was the rapporteur of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Council of Europe. It considered the report that was published last year on the treatment of the terminally sick and dying. One clear and direct message from the community of nations in Europe was the degree to which they upheld the idea of the sanctity of life and the need for proper care and attention.

The treatment of people who are ill is not an easy issue, but one bubbling with ethical, legal, moral and medical questions. In addition, it cannot be regarded as absolute, as the degree of medical attention and expertise that can be applied depends on society and its expectations. In poor areas where very little can be spent on medical treatment, questions of intravenous feeding and operations putting tubes into people's stomachs never arise. Neither the money nor the expertise is available. In our society, however, with the advantages that we have and the continuous advances in medicine, not only are those procedures commonplace, but the possibility of the extension of life and of cures, using man's God-given ingenuity to extend hope and improve the quality and nature of life, is important.

Although circumstances will differ, the mere fact that we have advanced sufficiently to be able to feed people intravenously and put tubes into their stomachs should not necessarily be regarded as an extraordinary way of keeping them alive. It is part and parcel of the development of the human mind and the human situation.

The issue has arisen of the quality of life of the people who are subject to such treatment. All too frequently, we draw conclusions from our own perspective without considering that of the person involved.

Back in 1966 when we were discussing the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, I remember reading a letter that had been read out in another place by Lord Iddesleigh. It had been printed in The Daily Telegraph,

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which is not my normal bedside reading. However, I found it very moving and perhaps we should bear it in mind when we talk about the quality of life:


    "Sir--We are disabled from causes other than thalidomide, the first of us having two useless arms and hands, the second two useless legs, and the third the use of neither arms nor legs.


    We are fortunate only, it may seem, in having been allowed to live, and we want to say with strong conviction how thankful we are that no one took it upon themselves to destroy us as useless cripples. Here in the Thomas Delarue School for Spastics . . . we have found worthwhile and happy lives and we face our future with confidence. Despite our disabilities, life still has much to offer and we are more than anxious, if only metaphorically, to reach out towards the future."--[Official Report, House of Lords, 30 November 1965; Vol. 270, c. 1175.]

That statement of concern and principle should underlie our attitude towards the Bill; it is profoundly important. That is why we should uphold the basic principle of the Bill.

My next point may not receive universal acceptance in the House. I was one of the few hon. Members who voted against the Second Reading of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill. At the time, we were told by the then proposers of the Bill that it would deal only with the really hard social cases--those in which the mother's life was at risk, or when the circumstances involved such extreme social conditions that a termination was necessary. However, since the passage of that Bill there have been more than 3 million terminations. We were told that there would be only a few--the equivalent of the Bland case.

Hon. Members underestimate the degree to which passing legislation can affect the attitude of society. That legislation changed the nature of regard for the right to life of the unborn child. I put it to the House that if we blithely accept the provisions in the Bland case, we will raise the question of the cripple and, in the terms of the BMA proposal, the new-born child.

I have had some experience of this subject. I had a grandson who was born after six months. I watched with pain and love how doctors at St. George's hospital and the Hedon road maternity hospital in Hull fought to keep that child alive. However, at the end, the nature of the treatment was causing such enormous distress to the child--with no prospect of the lungs developing--that, the decision had to be taken to stop it. Clearly, that was a cruel decision for the parents, and for the doctors. There is no way that I would argue that the purpose of the doctors was to hasten the death of that child. They would be completely clear under the terms of the Bill.

That is why I found it so disturbing, chilling and profoundly cruel to listen to what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) said. I thought that it was eugenics gone wrong. Those were the arguments of the Nazis--that a child or person is not healthy or suitable, and that we should proceed in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman. I know the hon. Gentleman, and I would be more than willing to share yet another carafe of beaujolais with him. However, I am not certain that I would want him as my doctor.

In terms of definition, I would have thought that most of the cases that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight cited were covered by the Bill. Most of the difficult cases referred to today would be covered by the Bill, which is concerned with the purpose to kill or the purpose to

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shorten life. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would not say that it was his purpose to shorten a person's life or to kill that person.


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