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Dr. Brand: I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of what I said. I said that the purpose of the withdrawal of treatment at that time--I was talking about a child, as he spoke about the grandson that he lost--was to allow nature to take its course and for death to occur. There is a vast difference between that and the hon. Gentleman's interpretation. That is the real argument that some hon. Members accept although, clearly, others do not.

Mr. McNamara: The hon. Gentleman said that the treatment of the child was becoming intrusive and that when it was becoming an assault on the child, the parents took the decision. I understand that. However, there is no way--certainly from what he said of the parents--that they said, "This will hasten death, and that is the purpose of what we are doing." From his own description of the case, it was not like that. He said that the treatment was intrusive and an assault on the child, and that there was no certainty of any success. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman read the report on this issue by the Council of Europe's committee--of which, sadly, he is no longer a member. It goes into these questions a great deal.

If we do not put a stop to this behaviour, it will become, like the BMA's guidelines, a slippery slope in terms of who is and who is not valuable in society, who decides, and on what basis and criteria. The only person who is not deciding is the person involved. We can only second-guess, at best, what their opinion might have been, because they would always be entitled to change their minds.

A person has a right to deny treatment, and to say that they do not want such violations done to themselves. A person has the right to want that to stop. However, we do not have the right, and doctors do not have the right, to say that we will take that decision purely and simply to terminate a person's life or hasten their end. We as a society cannot accept that, and that is why we should give a Second Reading to the Bill.

11.45 am

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and I differ on certain issues, but we are at one on this one. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) referred to the Christian position, but we are joined on this issue by people of the Muslim faith, the Jewish faith and those who do not profess any faith. This is a deep human issue, with moral implications.

I was fascinated to discover that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) recognised that sins of commission and sins of omission are of equal heinousness in the sight of Almighty God. In other words, he has been well brought up. I would say that one can do wrong by deliberately committing, and one can do wrong by deliberately omitting--sometimes not even by deliberately omitting, but by failing to do what was needed at a particular time.

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on coming first in the ballot. The right hon. and learned Member for

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North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) said that he may not vote for the Bill on Third Reading. He might discover that, as happened earlier this week, many who are not here at Second Reading will vote on Third Reading in favour of the Bill.

We have to face reality, and I try to do so. I have served for 29 years as a pastor, four of which involved a chaplaincy in a hospital with which I have close links. For 18 years, I have been deeply involved as the Ulster Unionist party health spokesman, and I have an awareness of what is happening not only in Northern Ireland, but in the nation as a whole. Internationally, one sees the drift on this issue, which is manifested in the way we treat people who need what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight describes as "care".

Often in hospitals and residential homes, the staff are so hard-pressed that they do not have the time to feed patients properly. That is an indictment of our society. We must recognise that food is treatment. The old adage is "Feed a cold and starve a fever". Anybody who says that that does not make any difference must face reality.

Reference has been made to the type of intervention. My nephew--an orthodontist who is now in Australia--developed a system for helping children with severe cleft palate problems to eat. He went to an orthodontists' conference in Nairobi to speak about it. That system was an intervention to allow a person to feed who would not normally be able to do so. It was a good intervention, but he was humbled out there to discover that the problem was not an intervention to help those children to feed but how to get them food at all.

I use that illustration to show that we are aware of the issues. I recall a young man some three years ago who was in a semi-coma after being brutally beaten by a bunch of so-called loyalist thugs and left for dead. His father sat by his bed, week after week, and he clearly never forgot the old adage that where there is life, there is hope. If we legislators signal to the medical profession--or anyone else--that life can be stopped, we will be failing in our duty.

Earlier, I intervened the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). The harsh reality is that people all over the world have been in comas for years and then recovered. I read about one last year in the Reader's Digest non-fiction series. A woman, although she could not communicate, was able to hear and understand what the doctors and nurses said and did. She went through agony at the way she was treated.

Mr. Ashton: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many doctors say that absolute dogmas do not work? Each case is different, and only the doctors can decide what is best.

Rev. Martin Smyth: Even doctors now would not accept that only they can decide. This is the age of partnerships--consultants, general practitioners, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and family members can all contribute to decisions, which go beyond the merely medical. The Bill tries to close a loophole that has developed very rapidly.

Interestingly, the BMA has admitted that a body of law has sprung up based on legal decisions. I am worried that to some extent this country is adopting the American approach, whereby judges decide issues of morality in

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society, instead of the elected representatives of that society setting the standards that they believe that society should uphold.

I remind the House that the Bill does not encourage unnecessary interventions. Some hon. Members are worried that a section of the medical profession believes that such interventions are warranted. For example, medical researchers sometimes intervene to prolong life unnecessarily when there is little or no likelihood of improvement. They want to advance their medical knowledge, and I appreciate that that may ultimately benefit many people throughout the world. However, the Bill says nothing about that.

Dr. Brand: I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman expanded that point. Is he saying that non-intervention not to prolong life is not the same as non-intervention to stop life?

Rev. Smyth: I am saying that the problem is that people are terminating life deliberately. The hon. Gentleman himself said that he did not want to play God, but withdrawing treatment or food is playing God just as much as deciding whether a person will die. I was making the point, bluntly, that people have been used for experiments, and that that did not happen only in the second world war. I do not consider that proper, but my point is that the Bill does not cover it.

The Bill does not require doctors to keep alive people who are dying. I am a long-time supporter of the hospice movement, and I am committed to proper palliative care. I cannot accept the imputation that giving a person a drug that will help him or her to endure pain--thereby prolonging life a little--is moving that person towards termination. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight spoke of a family gathering around a dying person, and I believe that that is the best thing. Sometimes we must help people and it is part of my calling as a pastor to be with people at such times. I do not think there is a proper connection between the concept of withdrawing treatment and palliative care. However, such details can be discussed in Committee.

The BMA has referred to a body of practice that makes euthanasia legal, but it is trying to have it both ways. Sometimes the House makes decisions that not every hon. Member agrees with, and which some will try to amend in due course. Similarly, statements from the BMA or the Royal College of Nursing do not necessarily reflect the sentiments of all their members. I have received letters from nurses, doctors and clinical engineers urging me to support the Bill. I gladly do so.

11.57 am

Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on winning the ballot and choosing this topic for her Bill, which she introduced with an excellent presentation. I cannot match her clarity, nor the passion with which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) spoke, but I shall try my best.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) said that he could not second-guess God. However, the issue is not one of second-guessing God, but of whether anyone should play God. That is the fundamental principle.

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Many of us disagree with the technicality of blocking private Members' Bills and preventing them from making progress. I ask the hon. Member for Isle of Wight whether he will refrain from using his right as a Member of Parliament to block the Bill so that we can pursue these arguments in Committee.


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