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Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I come to this debate objectively—

Noble Lords: Order!

12.24 pm

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I am sure that all Members in this House, whatever views they hold on the Bill, wish profoundly that palliative care for the
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dying should be made better and more accessible. Assisted suicide is not and never will be a substitute. Having said that, I want to make two further points.

First, like others, I remind your Lordships of the extremely narrow scope of the Bill. It is irrational, in my view, to reject the Bill on the grounds that its scope will inevitably be widened. The Bill excludes euthanasia, even if this may be what the patient would prefer. It excludes assisted suicide, except where a patient is facing imminent death with no hope of recovery. It excludes assisted suicide unless the patient is thought to be wholly determined and of sound mind. It presumes only that in certain circumstances suicide is a rational choice.

There can be no evidence that this Bill poises us on the top of a slippery slope, let alone one that leads to the widespread euthanasia of the vulnerable—an argument that we hear over and over again. Of course, some of those who fall within the scope of the Bill may be disabled. Others will not, except that they will be disabled by their illness. There is no threat in the Bill to the disabled in general, still less to those who are mentally disabled.

My second point is this. The whole purpose of my noble friend's Bill is to define a small category of person for whom the general law against assisted suicide should not apply. It is to be presumed that these people, who choose suicide when facing the suffering that will lead to their death, do not think it morally wrong to do so. It is not contrary to their moral principles, or, perhaps, those of their family. Is it just, then, that they should be governed by moral principles, whether of the clergy or the medical profession, in which they do not believe? I do not argue that they should disregard the law simply because they do not agree with it; only that the law should be changed in such a way that they, in their extreme circumstances, should be allowed to follow the morality in which they do believe, not another which would compel them to live against their wish.

12.27 pm

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I apologise to the distinguished noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, for intervening wrongly in the pecking order of the debate. I come to the debate objectively not from any particular religious view—certainly not a fundamentalist one. But if, like me, your father died at 35, when you were three years old, you regard every day lived as a very precious one indeed.

Philosophically, and from the progressive side of politics—because this is a difficult speech for me to make, I believe that my earlier intervention was as a result of anxiety—I can clearly see the humanitarian aims of the Bill. It contains passion and understanding of the plight of the individual whose life is becoming, and often is, intolerable and unbearable. Often, too, the lives of their nearest and dearest are pretty intolerable. This indeed may contain part of the problem associated with the Bill.
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Mercy in such circumstances is a very natural and humane response. I totally understand and respect those who support the Bill. This frequently stems from their life experience, as we have heard today. Also, I understand that this carefully crafted Bill puts the onus of the decision to end the life of the person concerned on the current or stated wish of that individual. A person with the precious gift of life is blessed. Taking that life away is an unbearable responsibility, even if taken by that person, based on the decisions and advice of others, however highly qualified and merciful.

The weakness of the Bill is not its humanitarianism, which I salute—my heart thus far is sympathetic—but its omission of the human frailties of others, whether members of the immediate family or others who may purport to support the individual but who, in reality, have agendas that may be linked to the money, property, the cost of long-term care or the plain settling of long-term scores unknown to others. They may not be genuinely concerned for the true well-being of the individual whose fate is under review. Albeit that it is to be the patient's own decision, it will be made under acute mental stress at their weakest possible moment in life. Persuasion, manoeuvring and denial of good palliative care could in those circumstances play a part. It is virtually impossible to legislate for such vagaries of human nature. That would break the trust between the doctor and patient.

It is for those reasons that I am unable to support the Bill, however well intentioned it may be.

12.31 pm

Lord Nickson: My Lords, when I was much younger, I remember being deeply influenced by the story of the father of an acquaintance who was terminally ill and in great distress in hospital. He asked that a briefcase be brought to him from his study desk—it was presumed, so that he could look at some papers. That briefcase contained not some papers but a loaded pistol, with which he shot himself. I remember feeling at the time there must be a better, more civilised way out for someone in such distress and pain. That feeling has stuck with me.

In the October debate, I would have counted myself, if not as a "don't know" perhaps in the 70 to 87 per cent who might have thought that the Bill was a very good idea. Since then, I have thought a lot. I have talked to a lot of people whose views I respect. During the October debate, I swayed one way and another. I remember being very influenced by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, about his mother; just as I was influenced by the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, just now. I have now made up my mind. I think that the Bill is dangerous and I shall oppose it, for four reasons.

First, I believe in the sanctity of human life—if you like, the Christian argument. The second reason is one of medical ethics and the trust between patient and doctor. I believe that that trust would be irrevocably damaged. Although I paraphrase, I believe that doctors, in the Hippocratic oath, sign something that
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says, "I will not give poison to anyone else who asks for it, nor will I make a suggestion to that effect". I believe in that. Thirdly, I am very influenced by the subtle, insidious pressure that I believe would be placed on people as our population ages, expressed in the briefest speech yet by my noble friend Lord Tombs.

Finally, I am of the view that whether we use the phrase slippery slope, a Rubicon, or the analogy of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke or of the abortion law, as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, we are in great danger of crossing the line. It is a line that we all know concerning inhibitions. As were so many things, it was expressed very concisely by Alexander Pope:

If we cross that line by approving the Bill, however much it may be limited, we shall be moving down a road that leads to something far less than we want. The Bill is very well intentioned and moved with great sympathy, but we all know that good intentions lead to a different road.

12.34 pm

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, just over 14 years ago, I sat every day and most nights at the bedside of a man in his 30s who had been diagnosed with a very advanced case of the most aggressive and virulent form of leukaemia. He fulfilled the criteria in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, to legislate for his assisted dying. He had been given a less than 20 per cent chance of survival and was likely to die within weeks—on some days, he was likely to die before the end of the afternoon. His physical pain was excruciating. Indeed, it was unbearable—so much so that administering any form of pain-killer was initially almost impossible. His mental anguish was constant and acute.

As his treatment began—there were four rounds of huge doses of chemotherapy, each round lasting for 13 days—he was absolutely clear-minded, but his will to fight became blunted. He said repeatedly that he could not go on. But he had to, and I am glad.

Fourteen years later, I am happy to say that he is thriving and I am so glad that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, was not on the statute book. I fervently hope that it never will be.

12.36 pm

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