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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, this is a sensitive subject that combines compassion and understanding with the basics of life and how to deal with death. You cannot get more complex and sensitive than that. If one is not a professional or a cleric, one walks on this bed of nails with care although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, one does not have to be a professional or a cleric to hold views on the subject. It is not surprising that views are fairly diverse.
I wish to raise four points, but before I do I shall refer to two speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, made a most astonishing speech
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that was clear and full of knowledge and understanding. Then she referred to a person who had wanted to be assisted to die, but did not have that assistance, and was alive 10 years later. If that had happened, one wonders where the rectitude and the rightness and wrongness would have been. It was a remarkable speech. The other speech, among many enormously impressive speeches, was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans who put a complicated situation clearly and asked since when personal choice has been the highest moral value. I had never thought of it like that, but most religions would say that personal choice is not the highest moral value because whatever one does one has to operate and co-operate with other people.
The four points that I wish to make are stark and simple. They are unencumbered by any natural explanation. The first is the remark made by the late Lord Soper, who used to come to this House dressed in his black cassock. I can see him sitting just behind where the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is sitting. We used to sit on the other side of the House because we were in government in those daysit feels like about a hundred years ago. I remember Lord Soper speaking without a note, as he always did, in a most beautiful voice. He said that in his experience the closer people come to death, the more they want to hang on to life. Those who are in favour of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, may say that that may be so but the Bill refers only to those who are about to die and are suffering terrible pain so it expedites an inevitable process. But one wonders whether we are entitled to expedite an inevitable process. What is an inevitable process? Death is an inevitable process and the only uninevitable things about it are how and when. Therefore I question whether we are right to expedite it.
Secondly, most doctors want to be seen as the savers of life, not the extinguishers of it. Savers of life would not like to be thought of by some as possible extinguishers of it. When an old lady sees her doctor, whom she trusts, will she feel that maybe this time he has come to extinguish her? Thirdly, the old ladyof course, this refers just as much to an old gentleman, a position some of us are rapidly approachingmay not wish to die, but may feel that she is being a burden on her children and that she ought to ask to be removed. Those would be intolerable pressures. My fourth point is closely connected. The old lady may think that her children probably wish her to be assisted to die in order to relieve them and her of the desperate misery that they see her going through. She may feel that she ought to do it for her children's sake.
I feel that the pressure on the elderly and the infirm to do that which they do not want to do because they feel that they ought to do it would be immense. These matters are never black and white but are varying shades of grey. No one person will slot into any one category. That is the danger of legislation: as soon as it categorises people there are arguments as to whether a person falls into a category or not. The wonders of modern science and modern approaches enable us to
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do remarkable things but I cannot believe that convenience dying is ethically, morally or religiously correct.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, it has become abundantly clear from all that has been written and spoken on the subject of today's debate that there are two different kinds of argument against what the Bill would permit. The first is absolutist and the second is consequentialist. We have not heard very much about the absolute argument this afternoon. I shall say very little about the consequentialist arguments. They focus mainly on the slippery slope, at the bottom of which lies non-voluntary euthanasia, or they concentrate on the supposed fact, which I by no means accept, that the passage of the Bill would mean an erosion of trust between doctor and patient. These are empirical arguments, based on what is thought likely to happen. As such of course they ought to be based as far as possible on evidence.
I want to concentrate instead on the absolutist argument that it is morally wrong to allow assisted death for those who seriously request it because it would violate the principle of the sanctity of human life. That issue has already been mentioned and came out very well in the quotations that we were referred to by my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner. Those whose objection to the Bill is based on this principle have no need to invoke the consequentialist arguments against it, although they often doand although it may well be true that, as the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said, many in the Church actually rely more on the empirical than on the absolutist arguments.
It is clear that most peopleI would say everyone in your Lordships' Housebelieve that human life is a value that has enormously high priority among all the things to which we attach value, and that one must be extremely cautious in giving other values priority over it. But those who literally believe in life's sanctity, argue, as the Church of England and the Roman Catholic bishops and the Chief Rabbi did in their written submissions to the Select Committee, that this sanctity derives from the fact that:
I want to suggest to your Lordships that, in matters of legislation especially, it is crucially important to distinguish moral arguments from religious or theological arguments. That is true despite the undeniable fact, which I certainly would not deny, that our morality has been hugely influenced by the Judaeo-Christian tradition. But the law cannot be based on the literal interpretation of religious beliefs of some, but not all, Members of Parliament, or of some,
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but not all, members of society. There are many people, even many people who, like me, are church-goers, who cannot take literally the proposition that being God's gift confers on human life a special sanctity regardless of its quality and regardless of whether the person living it wishes to preserve it. Life is not an abstract thing; it is not a separable non-concrete entity. A human life is always being lived by somebody. Someone in the extremity of suffering, knowing that his life is in any case drawing to a close, and begging to be allowed to die, will not be comforted by the thought that another person, not he, places the value of his life above every other conceivable value. And indeed, he may wish, as has been pointed out, to point out that we do not always apparently regard human life as having to be preserved at all costs. Not everyone, as the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, suggested, who is opposed to this Bill has refused to sanction the deliberate sacrifice of human life to other values in time of war, for example. I would argue that in certain limited cases, as outlined in the Bill, we should forget the theological arguments defining life itself as possessing an intrinsic sanctity. I turn instead to that separate moral argument; namely, the argument from compassion.
Compassion will of course lead us to try to make any human being's life when it is coming to its end as tolerable as possible. But by any moral standard is it good to prolong that life against his express wishes? Is it better by any moral standard to keep him alive if in some extreme case he is reduced by our efforts to actual unconsciousness, rather than to allow him to decide that now is the time to go? I cannot myself regard this as a rational or defensible morality, upon which the law must in my opinion be based.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I am, as most of your Lordships will know, a priest of the Church of England and, I hope, a theologian. I have never understood why some people think that the only theologians are those who are academics. I once attended a conference of clergy and committed laity of the Church of England at which, in his summing-up, the chairman said:
I find nothing in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, which I attempt to follow, which would exclude from the free will which God has given us the right to decide on ending my life responsibly. That being so, I have signed a so-called "living will" detailing the circumstances in which I want to be allowed or even assisted to die.
As I do not want to be a hypocrite, all rights which I claim for myself I wish also to claim for others. Whether or not they wish to exercise them, they should have those rights. Of course I hope that I shall never have to exercise them myself. I believe that this Bill, which gives people the right to make their own decisions, is the right one.
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Ilike, I am told, the majority of clergyam an ardent reader of crime novels. The reason for that I believe is that we need to be reminded, against all the superficial evidence, that Easter Day does follow Good Friday and that the Texas Rangers will eventually breast the hill, and that when they come over the hill they will be better than the Texas Rangers who might come over the hill today.
I therefore am more aware than most people of the ingenuity of those who wish to kill others for their profit. And I will be as concerned as anyone to make sure that all the necessary safeguards are in place. But about the principle I have no doubt at all; this Bill is long overdue and it is time we got on with it.
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