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Baroness Flather: My Lords, I am a coward. Realising that has come as a great surprise to me. I have lived my life free from all fear. I have followed the principles of Gita, which says that I have only to do my duty and I have to do it to the utmost of my ability—I do not have to worry about the result.

Death has been my friend all my life. When I was 12 years old, I clearly remember thinking every night before going to sleep what I would have done that day if I did not wake up tomorrow. That is a strange thing for a 12 year-old to do—nobody told me I should think like that. But I have always had death with me, as a friend, meaning end of life, end of struggle, and peace. So it has come as a surprise to realise that I am a coward.

What do I fear? I fear a prolonged, lingering death, with no room for getting better, knowing that this is the final journey. The limbo land I will live in, the twilight zone I may be in because of the cocktail of drugs that keeps me pain-free, is what I fear most. I like to think that I am not alone in this and that many people who get to the age many of us have reached think seriously about this. Do we really want that period in our lives? Will it make us feel that we are
 
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becoming better, or that our souls are improving, or that our loved ones are pleased to have us in that suffering condition?

I said in the first speech I made on this subject that if my husband was in that position and he begged me to help him, I would not deny him. I could not deny him, because I could not bear to see his suffering. I think many of us feel that way. We would not like to see our loved ones suffering, nor would we like to go through that suffering ourselves.

Most of the letters I have received have been from people of religious conviction. I respect that. If you have great faith in God, you cannot take the dying into your own hands. Suicide is wrong—any kind of suicide, whether it is assisted or you can do it yourself. It is time to tell them a great secret, which does not seem to have reached them as yet. The secret is that it will not be compulsory. It will be a question of personal choice. It will not be forced upon anyone.

Along with the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, I think the attitude of the disability lobby is extremely patronising. My husband is very disabled, and he felt exactly the same way when he saw the letters and expressions from the disability lobby. He felt it was demeaning and patronising to him and to most other disabled people.

It is the advances in medical science that I believe have led us to this point. We are not allowed to die naturally. The doctors and medicines keep us alive beyond the need for us to be alive.

Finally, all social legislation follows public opinion. If there were no public opinion in favour of this point, there would be no third debate today on this subject.

1.31 pm

The Earl of Glasgow: My Lords, I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, has just said. Seven months ago, when we first debated this Bill, or something very like it, I was taken aback by the number of people who were against it. I was aware, of course, that the Church and people of other faiths were likely to oppose it. If you believe that God, and only God, has the right to decide issues of life and death, it is unlikely that any counterarguments will get you to change your mind. But I could not understand, and maybe this was my own naivety, why so many people were opposing the Bill on very different grounds—in most cases, professional or emotional grounds that had nothing to do with what the Bill was actually saying. We have heard much evidence of that in the debate today so far.

Supporters of the Bill, such as myself, no longer use such words as "euthanasia" or "assisted suicide" because they trigger subliminal fears and emotions in the hearts of our opponents. We have heard evidence of that today, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. They seem to have a vision of a world in which ill people are systematically and quietly put to sleep in nursing homes, where would-be Dr Shipmans have licence to kill, the present trust that now exists between doctor and patient is broken and where the infirm and handicapped will feel constantly under
 
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threat. More moderate opponents of the Bill fear that it will encourage doctors to break the Hippocratic oath, that vulnerable old people will be cajoled into wanting to have themselves put down and that the Bill will only confirm them in their belief that they are second-class citizens and that their lives have become useless.

How do so many people read so much of this into the Bill, when in most cases it seeks to achieve exactly the opposite? Far from encouraging people to end their lives, it proposes that they first consider all other possibilities, especially palliative care, before requesting any form of assisted dying. It is this "slippery slope" argument that opponents have got firmly implanted in their heads which fuels all these irrational fears and distorts the true intentions of this Bill.

In one sense, the Bill is very straightforward. It has one simple, driving objective: to enable a person who is suffering from a terminal illness to be allowed assistance, at his own request, to end his own life, in his own time and with dignity as he sees it, and to ensure that anyone who helps him in that endeavour—including the doctor who provides the lethal dose—is free from prosecution. We should remember that no one is obliged to help the patient if it goes against his conscience. There is no slippery slope, no secret agenda, no opening of the floodgates to a general legalisation of euthanasia.

The Bill applies only to people who are in their right mind and who actively, consistently and unambiguously state that they wish to end their own life. It does not apply to people who might be considering suicide, those suffering from clinical depression or those whose families are persuaded that it might be convenient if they died. It does not apply to vulnerable old ladies who think they have become a nuisance. It does not apply to anyone, however ill or handicapped, who wishes to live their life to the full. The Bill has nothing to do with being second-class citizens, or being regarded as worthless or with one life being of more or less value than another. It applies only to those who crave, who beg or who demand assistance to bring their life to an end.

Of course a Bill like this needs safeguards against abuse. I believe such safeguards already exist within the Bill—they have been clearly emphasised by my noble friend Lord Goodhart—but if still greater safeguards are deemed necessary, let them be considered in Committee. To me, the Bill represents a way to end unnecessary suffering. It is a matter of personal choice. It is only you, the patient, who will have the right to decide that your condition has become so unbearable, and your future so bleak, that you wish to end your own life. Not your doctors, not your family, nor—dare I say it?—the Church; only you can make the decision.

It may well be that the emotional pain will be greater than the physical pain when it comes to making your choice. The onus is no longer on the doctors, and that can surely only help, not damage, the doctor-patient relationship. The sincere and considered desire of a
 
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terminally ill patient to be allowed to die should be a human right. Surely, and I address this to the right reverend Prelates in particular, God gave us free will. Why does God deny us that free will when it comes to the approach of death? Why does the Church condone the continuance of unnecessary suffering?

Few of us know what the cause of our death may be. Surely, however, it must be a comfort to all of us, certainly not a threat, to know that we have some say in the manner of our own dying. It is that human right which I would like to see established in future laws.

1.36 pm

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Joffe on his courage and persistence in promoting this difficult and sensitive Bill. Having worked almost all of my adult life with older people and on their behalf, I came to the conclusion after many years that most older people I met were not frightened of death or of being dead, but were very worried about the process of dying. I also understand many of the anxieties and concerns felt by disabled people and their organisations. They are worried about this Bill.

It is an appalling fact that prejudice, even discrimination, against people with disabilities still exists in spite of laws to ban their manifestation. I am patron of two disability organisations, and I have to say that the stamina and courage of many people with profound disabilities—and there are wonderful examples of this in your Lordships' House—have inspired me and enriched my life through knowing them. To stamp out negative attitudes and discrimination against disabled people must be a priority for all of us. However, that has nothing to do with this Bill.

One could say that people with disabilities are discriminated against, as under our law in this country an able-bodied person can commit suicide, but to need help makes that helper a murderer. I passionately support palliative care and the hospice movement. I was also privileged to meet Dame Cicely Saunders, and I have known many people, including my own father, who died well and peacefully in a hospice with wonderful palliative care. But this is not about a choice between life and death. We are talking about people for whom death is inevitable. It is something that they have almost reached and from which they cannot be rescued. Surely we want to ensure that their dying is peaceful and as pain-free as possible, and that they have time to make their farewells in the way that they wish. It is about the quality of dying.

Most people do not suffer if they receive good, comprehensive palliative care. That is why I support it so strongly. However, we know that a minority do not. For them, this Bill, were it an Act, would bring a sense of security and the knowledge that, if necessary, they can call on help. For most people, that knowledge is all they need. Experience in Oregon has shown us that the number of people asking for help to die is small and declining, because of the availability afforded by this law. It is a form of insurance policy.
 
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We are talking about adults of sound mind. They deserve the freedom to make decisions about their treatment and care until they are actually dead, not until they are desperate and their wishes and desires can be ignored.

1.40 pm


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