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The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I read Alice in Wonderland when I was far too young. I remember even now how much I disliked it—all those things suddenly changing shape, flamingos becoming croquet mallets and the irrational tyranny of the Queen of Hearts. It was the stuff of nightmares. Ever since, I have been wary when Lewis Carroll's methods are used by other people to try to achieve their ends. I remind noble Lords of Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking-Glass, who said:

The Bill is a classic example of that. For example, it is said that this Bill is of the same nature as previous Bills. It is not at all. I served on the Select Committee—which was a huge privilege—and we spent far more time looking at euthanasia than we did at assisted suicide. I am sure that, had we thought that this would be a different Bill that was just about suicide, we would have called in evidence from experts in that kind of field. We did not. This Bill is not of the same nature.

This Bill seeks to legalise assisted dying, which of course sounds enormously compassionate; but in reality it is about assisted suicide for the terminally ill.
 
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We should be clear what it is but, more importantly, we should ask why euphemisms always surround this Bill. Why are we not being absolutely straight with each other about what the Bill entails? The organisation that is one of the driving forces behind the Bill used to call itself the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, but now, of course, it has changed its name to Dignity in Dying, which seems to imply that there is only one dignified way to die—by euthanasia or assisted suicide. The organisation has taken a phrase that is used in palliative care and by the hospice movement and has turned it around to mean the exact opposite of what it originally meant:

The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, has made it abundantly clear today that he has changed his mind about this being a first stage. Naturally, I welcome his change of heart and recognise with others his honesty and courage in doing so, but presumably it has come about because of the dangers that he and some of us have seen in other countries. I look forward to further discussions about some of the dangers in this Bill.

The Bill's proponents, again by a Lewis Carroll-ish sleight of hand, argue that it is all about personal autonomy. But personal autonomy is fundamentally anarchic. It places the individual in a solipsistic universe and fails to recognise that we human beings flourish only in our relationships with one another. But this Bill would give me the legal right to require and demand of a doctor that he or she provides me with a means to kill myself. There are those who talk about this as a therapeutic option—what kind of twist in language is that? It is like saying: "This is not a flamingo, this is a croquet mallet". It is not at all difficult to see how the apparent surface meaning given to human rights could be shifted. It is not impossible to imagine in the future a harrowing case whereby an individual choosing to try to commit suicide was then unable to do so. Then there would be arguments that that person's human rights had been infringed and a more humane way should be found. Lo and behold, euthanasia would then be back on the agenda.

We are told that this is about one group imposing beliefs on another. I suppose that if that is said often enough and loudly enough people will believe it. It is simply not the case. This is about debate and I relish debate, but I think that this is a Lewis Carroll-ish Bill, because it is morally confused yet so chillingly plausible—and as a result, I shall vote against it.

11.49 am

Lord Tombs: My Lords, terminally ill people are vulnerable people—afraid and apprehensive of approaching death and the manner of its arrival. They are very sensitive to suggestion and there is no shortage of potential coercive influences, some apparent, some less so.

Most insidious is the atmosphere created by the environment in which the sick patient finds him or herself. Acceptance by the law of the deliberate termination of life, albeit at the patient's request, could create an ambience in which the patient felt pressured
 
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to comply. The feeling of being a burden on others is familiar to many elderly and disabled people, and it would be all too easy for a right to opt for a deliberate death to become a duty to do so for the sake of others. The exception would then become normal, irrespective of the real wishes and welfare of the patient.

I do not doubt the sincerity of the sponsors of this Bill but I deplore what I see as their naivety. In seeking to change the law in order to help a small number of people to end their lives voluntarily within the law, they will imperil many others by creating a presumption that life has become worthless, or inconvenient to others, as a means of inducement to end their lives. That seems to me quite indefensible.

Coercive pressures could change measures intended to be caring into aggressive ones against the terminally ill, the aged and the handicapped, who would rightly feel threatened in a way that no civilised society should accept. I believe that that argument alone is sufficient reason to reject the Bill. I support the amendment.

11.51 am

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, opened his speech by objecting, quite rightly, to the misrepresentation of his position in the Times recently. Perhaps I could open mine by objecting to what I felt was a misrepresentation of my position when the noble Lord said that those who supported the Bill and were proponents of it were intent on extending it to euthanasia in the future.

I went on to the Select Committee as someone who did not have clear views on this subject and was not committed to the Bill that had been brought forward formally. It was only following my experience on the committee and having listened to the evidence that I felt that I could, with good conscience, support a Bill that was constrained to physician-assisted suicide but would not be able to support a Bill that allowed physician-administered euthanasia. I made that position clear in your Lordships' House and when I spoke in the Select Committee, and I certainly made it clear to my noble friend Lord Joffe.

I feel that it is unfair to punish my noble friend Lord Joffe for having constrained the Bill. He listened to some, like me, who felt that it should be more limited and then brought forward a more limited Bill. So it is unfair then to argue in procedural terms that, because the Bill is more limited, we are not bound by the recommendation in the Select Committee report that this should go on to further and full discussion in your Lordships' House. It would be a matter of enormous sadness to me if we could not deal with these issues in some detail.

I wish to say something to two fellow members of the committee. First, I say to my noble friend Lord Turnberg that his register against which to assess this Bill is exactly the same as mine but he comes to a different conclusion on whether you can meet the needs of a minority without endangering a majority. We differ not on our absolutes but on our interpretation of the Bill. Secondly, I say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, whose
 
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company I enjoyed enormously—we swapped a lot of books during our time on the Select Committee—that I, too, felt as though I was living in the world of Alice in Wonderland when I read the letters that I received recently about the Bill, because they described a Bill quite different from the one before the House today. So it is possible for us to have the same feelings but to disagree about the way forward.

Finally, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that at the end of life we need to show people love and respect as well as giving them physical and medical care. For some people—I say this having received testimony both as part of the committee and personally from individuals—that love and respect would be given and devoted by the implementation of the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Joffe. The question whether we can afford that quality of love and respect for a minority without causing anxiety and detriment to many others is a matter of the gravest concern to us as legislators. It is not a question to which we can answer "yes" or "no" today; it deserves the most detailed attention and I hope that, for that reason, the House will not support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

11.56 am

Lord Elton: My Lords, I hope that it is clear already that there is compassion on both sides in this debate. Those who think that Christians are constrained by theology to vote in one direction to the exclusion of any other consideration have been shown to be wrong both by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans—a schism between them which the most reverend Primate, to give him his correct title, will notice with concern.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, put forward very hard but hypothetical cases. One has to remember that hard cases make bad law. At the moment we are engaged in something which is directed not at individual cases but at the colour of society and the way that it is moving and at how pain—moral, physical or intellectual—can be minimised and individual autonomy maintained in a society which is still ordered. That means that we have to have a clear structure of law dealing with how people are treated at the end of their lives, which is often their most vulnerable stage.

The vulnerability is very real. It is not ageist to say that old people are vulnerable. Most of us fall above the line where, we are told, palliative care is most freely available, so we have a direct interest in this. The effect of the Bill, if enacted, would be to change not only the legal but also the general perception of the sanctity of human life, and it would have many unintended consequences, of which I shall mention only one in order to shave a minute off my share and get us home earlier.

I was a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security, as well is in four other departments over a period of years in government, and it is an
 
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inescapable fact that ultimately policy is driven by money. That is why the Treasury always controls policy—which makes the present juncture in politics so interesting. The stark fact is that palliative care is expensive and a lethal pill is cheap, and the generators of policy—I do not just mean people sitting in the Cabinet Office or the Secretary of State's office but the many hundreds involved in generating policy in the Civil Service and putting the choices between them—will be steered in a critical part by that financial consideration. That is a direction that we should not follow. For other equally or more powerful reasons which have been stated, and which will be stated again, I shall be supporting the amendment today but I put one case to your Lordships: I ask noble Lords to go into that Lobby and I do so not from Christian principle but from ministerial experience.

Noon


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