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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, although I still, with misgivings, oppose the Bill, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, on improving it and bringing it back to the House. I should also say that if my noble friend Lord Carlile seeks to kill the Bill at this stage, I will decline to support him. I favour the House having the chance to consider the Bill in detail in view of the widespread public interest in it. The Bill could then be voted down at Third Reading if the House so decided

In earlier debates, I concentrated on two broad issues. The first, which was largely overlooked then, is the pressure that the Bill would, unintentionally though inescapably, exert on many vulnerable people to avail themselves of assisted suicide to avoid being a burden on their families or dissipating scarce resources. That is now recognised as a foremost objection to the Bill and I need not say more.

My second point—odd for a lawyer, you may think—is to observe that there are some matters that are so infinitely sensitive and complex that to try to regulate them by law is self-defeating. In effect, legislation is too blunt an instrument. Perhaps my early role as a coroner's assistant helped to inculcate that belief. I think that it is better to rely on and trust the professional integrity, practical wisdom and ethical common sense of the medical profession—nurses as well as doctors. "But", proponents may ask, "hasn't that led to abuse?". Occasionally, of course, but no outcome can or will avoid that. Indeed, abuse is more likely if we pass the Bill because it will tend to drive out, or at least override, individual doctors' professional and ethical judgment, replacing it by law. That will lead to doctors in cities specialising in assisted suicide law, often working in informal partnership with other doctors giving second opinions under the Bill, and with solicitors specialising in finding ways through the legislative maze. Look what happened with the abortion law. Why not avoid all that with a Bill that is more broad brush?

If the law is drafted widely enough to cover the infinite variety of human predicaments, it will necessarily be vulnerable to legally strained interpretations, some of which will go well beyond the
 
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intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. Yet, if we throw out the Bill, I have to concede that a few people may be forced to suffer unbearably. That is a harsh reality, but it must be juxtaposed against my earlier harsh reality that the Bill will exert pressure on some people and encourage them to seek assisted suicide.

Then there is the text of the Bill. It has many defects and I wish that there was time to debate with my noble friend Lord Goodhart the list of so-called protections he enunciated, including the definition of unbearable suffering" in Clause 13. As drafted, that extends to,

Such unacceptable distress could be emotional upset, sheer frustration or a pervading sense of the pointlessness of life. That opens up vistas for the Bill that I believe to be highly dangerous.

Finally, the Bill will inadvertently but inevitably change the culture of both medicine and society, which is partly why the disability fraternity is almost united against it. That change could well lead down a dark slope. I do not believe, for example, that it will be long before the definition in the Bill of "terminal illness" as one that is,

will be lengthened.

The need for the Bill should be proven beyond reasonable doubt. It has not been.

12.04 pm

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I support the Bill and salute the courage of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, in introducing it. I do so with some trepidation, as an ambassador in bonds, because nearly all my Christian friends oppose it. I pray that they will forgive me. I say what I am about to say not to offend them but to contribute some perhaps fairly original thought to the debate. I should add, too, that I speak from a personal religious experience, which some of your Lordships may have noticed was unfortunately sensationalised in the national press just after we rose for last summer's Recess. It is that experience which leads me to query two threads that run through all the many letters against the Bill that I have received from the Christian community—threads which can also be detected in the heartfelt speeches of the many noble Lords who oppose the Bill.

The first thread is what seems to me to be an exaggerated fear of death. I find it perplexing that our humanists, who presumably do not believe much in an afterlife, should support this Bill, whereas my Christian friends, who trust that death leads to the salvation of the soul and eternal bliss, should oppose the death proposed by the Bill. I should have thought that the humanists would be more likely to hang on to life like grim death rather than the Christians, but it appears to be the other way round.

I am aware of the commandment: "Thou shalt not kill", but it is generally accepted by Christians to mean: "Thou shalt not murder". Murder will not result from the Bill.
 
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The second thread which seems to run through the Christian position is an assumption that suicide is a religious crime. I may be wrong but I am not aware of anything in the Gospels validating that assumption. It is true that the Church has made suicide into a crime, supported often by the state. But there are several areas where the Church appears to have distorted the burning purity of our Lord's teaching, and I suggest that this may be one of them. Be that as it may, are we really saying that all the thoroughly decent Christian doctors over the years who knew and loved their patients well, and who relieved them from the hopelessness of a painful terminal illness, will have been punished by our just and loving God? Do any of us really believe that? Not many I would suggest. Why should they continue to be punished by our terrestrial law?

Perhaps even more irritatingly for my Christian friends, I suggest that our Lord does not appear to have gone out of his way to preserve his own earthly life—quite the reverse. All four gospels show that he did not need to go to Gethsemane or to surrender his humanity upon the cross. Let us not forget that in his great agony, he cried out those terrible, fearful words:

It would seem that for a few moments at least, even the Son of Man may have lost confidence in where he was going. Then came his glorious resurrection which gives so many people their certainty in the life to come. I can but recommend that certainty to my Christian friends, and ask them to ponder these matters in their hearts before they vote against the Second Reading of this compassionate and reasonable Bill.

12.08 pm

Lord Ballyedmond: My Lords, to speak on this Bill is to undertake the position of being heard as yet another voice with yet another amalgam of personal opinions on this multifaceted issue. I do not seek to preach morals and ethics, nor do I seek to persuade others to adopt my opinion on these issues. Instead I wish to establish facts.

There has been some debate among doctors regarding the appropriate stance that they should take as a profession in the spotlight. Their position of neutrality in the past was born out of a desire to remain as the providers of medicine rather than to become the keepers of society's ethics and morals. Nor do they wish to become law makers. There is now a definite opinion in the medical profession after a Royal College of Physicians survey showed that three-quarters of the profession oppose a change in law. These doctors believe that a change in legislation is not necessary for the small number of patients whose needs are not met by current levels of palliative care, where that palliative care is not sufficient or is believed to be insufficient. It is our duty to pay due attention to the body of professionals to which this Bill is directed.
 
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Regardless of one's personal views on this matter, it must be noted that, before the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, could ever be implemented, a wealth of research and development in the field of palliative care would be required. That has not yet occurred to a satisfactory level.

We are elevating ourselves to a very high platform today. We are adjudicating on a Bill to legalise the taking of life. My view is that to legalise assisted suicide is an attempt to regulate death and to remove the very aspects that in life we fight to protect. Rightfully, there can be no such legislation. We must exercise caution and treat voluntary death with the respect that it commands. This is not an issue that can be resolved on the basis of who is right and who is wrong. We must be very careful not to give any further credence to the Bill, which may ultimately be abused to the point where the sick, dying and disabled in our society will be placed in an unacceptable position. This Bill contains unsatisfactory safeguards.

We do not have the benefit of sufficient proven scientific evidence at our disposal today to make the decision to support the Bill or accurately to assess its consequences. To proceed where experts do not wish to go would, in my view, be the utmost folly. I ask your Lordships to reject the Bill in its totality. To do otherwise would mean that we were crossing the Rubicon. The die must not be cast.

12.12 pm


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