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Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her speech.

My mailbag experience was the same as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Overwhelmingly, it consisted of letters against the Bill. Knowledge from another place suggests that when those letters are being written off a factsheet, you can see the similarities between them. The letters that I received were personal experiences. Two views emerged. One was that the passage of the Bill would
 
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alter the value of human life. The most reverend Primate made the point that not only would it alter the lives of those who might make a decision, it would alter the lives of a lot of others who might want to resist making such a decision. Secondly, it would alter the relationship between members of the medical profession and their patients. Over and over, doctors wrote to say: "We were trained to heal and save life, not to kill".

Because of time pressure, I shall read only one paragraph from one letter. It is from a nurse in Cheshire. She wrote:

That is not a deeply theological argument; it is an intensely practical and pertinent day-by-day argument that applies to the Bill.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for pointing out the illusory difference between killing and simply writing the prescription that makes the killing appropriate. He was absolutely right to do so. I hope that the House will not think the less of me if I say that I was reminded of all the safeguards that were built into the abortion legislation to facilitate its passage on to the statute book. Of course, I imply no such motivation to the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, in this case, but I am persuaded by previous experience.

In his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, said that he hoped that those of us whose views were shaped by faith would not press our faith because it is a minority view in a secular society. I can tell the House that I have spent 27 years in public service and I do not believe that I could ever have been accused of using my faith as a cudgel. I seek to have my faith integrated as part of who I am. I cannot—and I will not—seek to dissociate who I am and my views from my faith. My faith and my world view are just as legitimate as the faith, whether secular or theological, and world view of anyone else.

Finally, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, was quoted over the weekend as saying that he had received hate mail. As a former Minister, I know what that is like. I deplore it, and he has my sympathy. It was also said that he had said that much of the mail he received lacked Christian compassion. I recognise his compassion and I dissociate myself from any letters he received that lacked Christian compassion. Equally, I hope that he will recognise my compassion. This is not a battle about compassion; it is a question of judgment. I simply do not share the noble Lord's judgment.

12.40 pm

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I start by correcting something said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who is not here. He said that the Select Committee did not consider the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. In fact, paragraph
 
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245 of the report makes it quite clear that the committee did consider it. Indeed, why did the committee go to Oregon and Switzerland if a Bill of this kind was not considered?

I respect the views of those who oppose the Bill for deeply held religious reasons. I also recognise non-religious reasons. But I do not respect, and I regret, the nature of the campaign waged against the Bill, at vast expense, by the Churches and senior Church leaders, much of which either ignores or distorts the evidence. I shall give a number of examples. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, writing in the Catholic Herald, said:

That claim was repeated by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who also expressed the concern, which he repeated in rather different words today, that the motive behind the Bill was the need to cut costs in healthcare. With the greatest respect, that was a most extraordinary statement. The evidence from Oregon is clear; very few people—only 0.14 per cent of those who die—use the law, although many more ask for prescriptions. It comforts them to know that they can use it, but most do not. The idea that the Oregon law leads to a duty to die is simply an invention designed to scare, with not a shred of evidence to support it.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester said:

No child in Oregon has been, or could legally be, helped to die. Nor could they be, under the Bill.

The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith said:

another somewhat hysterical distortion. It is true that many people fear—a fear that many noble Lords have expressed—that families might put pressure on elderly parents to commit suicide; a rather cynical view, if I may say so. The evidence from Oregon shows clearly that this fear is misplaced. As one would expect, family pressure is almost invariably to prolong life. In fact, elderly people in Oregon use the Act less than others.

The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, who is president of the Catholic Union and who I am sorry to say is not here, suggested that the Bill's approach was:

In fact, palliative care in Oregon is among the best in America, and the law there has stimulated even further improvement.

The Church Times likened the Bill's supporters to Nazis. It wrote:

which is a complete distortion of the Bill—

That is a statement of which Dr Goebbels would have been proud. Anyone who reads with an open mind the evidence that the committee heard in Oregon—the
 
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noble Earl, Lord Arran, will say more about this—will find that the experience there provides no basis for allegations that the elderly, the disabled or other vulnerable groups will suffer, that there will be a slippery slope, and that the Bill will destroy the doctor/patient relationship.

I should say to noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, who are worried about the effect that it would have on relationships with doctors, that the Bill does not follow the Dutch law, but it is worth noting that in the Netherlands trust in doctors is the highest in Europe, and an overwhelming proportion of Dutch doctors support the law there. I hope that some Bishops in this debate will disown these distortions, and I very much applaud the attitude taken by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney.

I have not quoted the rantings of cranks who write in green ink; the statements I quoted were made by leading members of the Churches.

12.45 pm

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, having had to face up to my own mortality when I was diagnosed with leukaemia last autumn, I can identify with the mental trauma that comes with life-threatening illness—a trauma which can in some circumstances slip over into depression. If, in a moment of self-cynicism, I were to describe myself in some way, I might describe myself as a Trinitarian monotheistic utilitarian—to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, earlier. I shall expand on that for a moment.

My particular concern is that the current version of this Bill has weakened the safeguard against assisted dying for people who are depressed. Indeed, a significant proportion of terminally ill people who request euthanasia are suffering from transient depression, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, mentioned earlier. The 2004 Bill required a stringent test of mental capacity to make an informed decision about assisted dying. This involved referral to a psychiatrist or psychologist, who would have to take account of any evidence of impaired judgment. The current Bill ignores the advice offered by the Select Committee and lacks this crucial sanction: it no longer makes an explicit connection between impaired judgment, which someone may have who is depressed but whose mind and brain are working properly, and a lack of mental capacity.

Those who care for people nearing the end of their lives, and those of us who have approached that extremity of human experience, can testify that a terminal prognosis very often leads to a period of transient depression, but that most patients recover from this phase and adjust to their new situation. In my own case, it was not depression but the kind of mood swings experienced through four severe courses of chemotherapy, which was enough. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, earlier. Having been somewhere along that road myself, I could not trust myself to use the kind of freedoms envisaged in the Bill. I say that reluctantly, because I remember
 
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vividly the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and value his contributions in this House. More importantly, physicians are often poor at suspecting, identifying and diagnosing depression, which is often confused with sadness or adjustment disorders. The Bill is not safe; it does not protect vulnerable people.

I, too, am concerned that there has been a tendency in wider debates to neutralise arguments of religious people on the ground that they are religious arguments. I know that not absolutely all religious people oppose the Bill, but I also know that many people who would not associate themselves with any of the faith communities also oppose it. We all have ideologies, and proponents of the Bill in the House would be unwise to marginalise the views that come from these Benches and elsewhere because of who we are, as what we do day by day places us in contact with many, many other people. Time does not permit me to answer, and in part apologise for, some of the material that the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, cited earlier. I could do so in writing, but I utterly respect that.

There is a reciprocal relationship between theory and practice; our accustomed habits of behaviour have a decisive impact on our ideals. A change in the law concerning the treatment of terminally ill patients will also have repercussions on society as a whole. It will give a new shape to public opinion or common sense. We are talking not only about assisted dying, but about the basic assumptions by which people value and treat themselves and each other. A further danger stems from the very way in which human rights are often pressed in many other areas of life. "I can" so quickly becomes "I must", and there is no accompanying doctrine of restraint to reassert the fact that my choices and their effects do not redound on me alone.

Finally, in the last few seconds of injury time—the Bishop of Oxford will not be speaking—please permit me as a former patient to elaborate a little further. When I had to contemplate my own death for the first time as a reality, I kept being struck by its wider implications; not just for me, but for my family and friends, to say nothing of the doctors and nurses to whom I so quickly became close. Dying, it could be said, is not an entirely individual matter. It is corporate. In trying very hard, and probably unsuccessfully, to inhabit this very grey area of human experience, I am unable to support the permitted freedom envisaged by this Bill.

12.50 pm


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