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Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): My right hon. Friend is doing a marvellous job for a noble cause. Can he explain why, when the Government say that they share our wish not to make euthanasia legal, they cavil at putting words into the Bill that would guarantee that?
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Government have got themselves into a terrible state about whether the provisions that we are discussing might have affected the judgment in the Bland case. I accept that that is one of their main concerns. They have been anxious to get the Bill through because many charities want it. There is a legitimate reason for that and I do not cavil at it, but what bothers me is that the Government have split the difference. Ultimately the problem boils down to a word or, in the case of their hon. Friends' amendment, a single line. It would cost them nothing, even now, to turn to their Back Benchers who tabled the amendment and agree to include it in the Bill. Even I would be satisfied that that would at last safeguard the problems that we are talking about. They cannot even bring themselves to do that. That is essentially what happens when civil servants take control of an issue and Ministers are, as happens too often, driven by those civil servants. They are generalists, in this particular case, who do not understand, or do not wish to understand, the deep problems that exist in some of the wording that they will allow to go through.
We have limited time and I wish to draw to a close. I shall not talk in detail about the problems, but will simply say that one simple principle is at stake. We have a Bill that has been through a fair amount of debate in both Houses and which, in its last phases, is about to be driven through at speed by a Government who appear, or who give the sense of appearing, to be frightened of further debate, because that debate would expose the reality that the Bill is deeply flawed. The Bill is unlike most others that the House passes and votes on: most Bills are not likely to end in death for somebody who is subject to its failures. That is the reality of this Bill, however. Somebody in future years may find themselves incapable of speaking or controlling events for themselves and relying on someone else whose motivation and purpose is not what it should be. They will have food and fluids withdrawn. In short, they will lose their life. That is the difference between this Bill and many others.
It is not too much to say that a Government who have refused to give their own side a free vote, who have railroaded their own Members as hard as they can, and who have refused to accept the advice or helpful assistance of almost everybody who wanted to see the Bill through, albeit with safeguards, show an arrogance that simply will not stand up over the next few years. I guaranteeit is a small prophecythat in future years the Bill will be challenged, and I hope that it happens soon. They will be forced to bring it back to reverse some of the provisions that they have allowed to go through.
I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to take the Government at their word in the House the last time the Bill was before us. They said that they intended to do the decent thing; they have not. I urge Members to vote for my amendment and to vote down all the Government amendments.
Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op):
I have spent long periods in consultation on the Bill and
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in negotiation with officials and Ministers in both Houses. I must record that I will strike a slightly different tone from that of the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), in that I welcome much of what has happened and many of the amendments that have been made. I speak, I know, for Archbishop Peter Smith in saying that.
My recent amendment to Lords amendment No. 24 highlights an area in which I still feel there is room for movement by the Government, however. The Bill has been debated at length and amended in specific areas. The area I am talking about now is that of advance decisions. My amendment deals with advance directives and whether suicidally motivated advance directives should be given force in the Bill to bring about a person's death.
My amendment seeks to close a glaring loophole in the Bill as drafted. Advance decisions, as the Government have acknowledged, are not covered by the welcome declaratory provision formerly contained in clause 58, now in clause 61, that restates that the Bill does not change the law on assisted suicide. We need to be extremely clear about that. The preservation of the prohibition in the Suicide Act 1961 on assisting suicide will not stop doctors being forced by the unamended Bill to engage in what many regard, in common sense, as complicity in expressly suicidal refusals of treatment. We need to be clear, too, as the Government have acknowledged, that the best interest criteria in the Bill do not apply to advance decisions. We welcome those best interest clauses.
In my view, the Bill will, if unamended, give statutory force to expressly suicidally motivated advance decisions. As night follows day, this glaring loophole will be exploited by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, which will promote carefully drafted advance decisions that will force doctors to be complicit in assisted suicide and may make a mockery of our prohibition against assisted suicide.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) said on Report before Christmas, the Voluntary Euthanasia Society is determined to use advance decisions to weaken our legal prohibition against euthanasia, and I feel that the form in which advance decisions are included in the Bill will give it a helping hand. It is interesting that the society has been strangely silent all through the passage of the Bill.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the publication this week of the House of Lords Select Committee report on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, introduced in the other place by Lord Joffe, a member of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, underlines the statement that my hon. Friend has just made in this House?
Jim Dobbin: Yes, I agree entirely. There is a determination by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society to make sure that that Bill, introduced in the Lords for the second time, will re-emerge at some time in the future.
My amendment was drafted by Professor Finnis, a professor of law at Oxford university and an internationally renowned authority on these matters.
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Obviously the Government believed that he was a competent witness, as it were, because they happily engaged with him in the preparation of clause 61, and he was happy to take part in that discussion. Professor Finnis argues that if we approve the Bill without closing the loophole, the Bill will carelessly introduce a new culture of prescribing death by the artifice of arranged and managed omissions. That is the view of the person who helped to draft the declatory provision in the first place.
"Professor Finnis and I believe that a further amendment is still needed to ensure that the Bill confers no authority on expressly suicidal advance decisions. We therefore strongly support efforts of Members of both Houses who are seeking to introduce an amendment to exclude decisions from being given validity or authority by a Bill where they have a purpose of bringing about death or are motivated by a desire of doing so."
"I very much hope the government will reconsider its opposition to inserting such an amendment, which we firmly believe can be made without affecting the jurisdiction of the courts affirmed in the Bland case."
That, too, is a very clear statement that there is no wish by the hierarchy or Professor Finnis to overturn the Bland judgement; the amendment would not do that. Professor Finnis was asked to draw up the amendment on the basis of that being the case, and that is what he has endeavoured to do.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): My hon. Friend said some moments ago that he believed that clause 61 did not protect people in the case of an advance directive. Will he explain why he thinks that is the case? My reading of the clause is completely the opposite.
The amendment would not force doctors to keep treating a dying, unconscious patient where the treatment was futile and even where the family expressed the wish for the patient to die peacefully at home. By contrast, the amendment would not prevent doctors from giving palliative treatment to a dying patient if foreseeably that might shorten the patient's life. We have had a superb example of that in recent days. In his last days, the Holy Father displayed the true meaning of dying with dignity. He did not ask for all the stops to be pulled out to keep him alive; he even declined to return to hospital, preferring to die at home, at the Vatican. He demonstrated that those of us opposed to any weakening of the legal prohibition and assisted suicide are not vitalists, and I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that today.
Without the amendment, we have only clause 4(5), the best interests provision, which prevents anyone, in considering a person's best interests, from being motivated by a desire to bring about death, but the clause does not apply to advance decisions, as the Government have made clear. Without my amendment
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it would be possible under the Bill for an expressly suicidal advance decision to be legal and binding on the doctor with care of the patient.
Throughout discussion of the Bill, I have not doubted the Government's good intentions, but good law is far more important. In addition to the loophole that I have already identified, there is nothing in the Bill to deal with a dangerous situation such as the one we witnessed in the United States last week in the Terri Schiavo case, where the attorney had a vested financial interest in the incapacitated patient's premature death. We do not want to get into such a situation, but if the Bill is not amended we shall be starting down that dangerous road. It is not too late for the Government to amend the Bill, and many people up and down the country, who are closely monitoring today's events, will be sorely disappointed if the Government fail to respond appropriately.
I accept your ruling about a vote on my amendment, Mr. Speaker. In that event, I should seek powerful reassurances from the Government that all the concerns that I have raised in my speech be taken into consideration and covered in some detail.
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