Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Richardson of Calow: My Lords, I support the Bill, and I do so as a Christian. I was very impressed at the level of co-operation seen among our religious leaders, but I do not entirely share their views, and I believe I speak for many others who do not share them.

There is no doubt that this Bill has shocked the religious communities. It shocked us because we have had to look at ourselves in a new light. It has undermined the security that some have felt in the sense that God is in control of life and death, and therefore that our responsibility simply has to be to assist him in what is the best that we can arrange; the
12 May 2006 : Column 1245
most comfort, the deepest love and the highest level of care. Into the hands of men and women has now been put a great responsibility over life and death, and it is no longer safe to talk about natural life as though we have defined it. With all that we have done with ingenuity, creativity and imagination and research, the use of drugs and technology can now enhance and prolong life, and therefore it gives us a new sense of responsibility not to seek to prolong unnecessarily the end stage of life.

The Bill has also forced us to look again at our theology of suffering and death. In spite of talking about ourselves as an Easter faith, we have been singularly lacking in a theology of death, and we still regard death as an enemy to life. Earlier in the debate, I heard someone say that it is the role of doctors to prevent death. They are singularly inept at doing that for all of us; they can postpone it, maybe. But death comes as a friend to very many people, and I was so pleased to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, say that. My father, in the last stages of his life, deeply unhappy after a stroke, used to say, "If I was a horse, you would shoot me". Then, after all, pneumonia is the old man's friend. But these days pneumonia is not always allowed to be so.

We have also been forced to look at how, at the end of life, there are those who would choose death. We do not like the thought of having the right over life and death. If we have in our hands the means by which a person can end their suffering, we must ask, "What are the moral and ethical judgments that we must make to withhold that?". I have been shocked by the energy, anger and the human and financial resources that have gone into seeking to force a few more months of life for people who profoundly do not want it. I wish that the same level of support could be directed to prevent the deaths of those who throw themselves off bridges and under trains because they cannot see enough support or that our mental health provisions are sufficient to create a life that still has all its possibilities.

This Bill has engaged the attention of society. We have heard the voices of those opposed to it, though we have been told that more support it than are against it. I hope that the debate continues in society on the value, quality and dignity of life and our responsibility for it. I hope that the debate continues in Parliament. This Bill warrants further discussion.

1.58 pm

Lord Hayhoe: My Lords, I declare my interest as a former president of Help the Hospices. With that background, it is not surprising that I do not like this Bill. Even accepting, as I do, the good intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and many of his supporters, I am nevertheless firmly opposed to this legislation, and I devoutly hope and believe that it will not and should not be enacted.

Like others, I have received very many letters opposing the Bill. A substantial number of those have argued for better and wider provision of palliative care; quite right too. We need more palliative care
12 May 2006 : Column 1246
consultants, better training for medics and nurses, and more resources dedicated to this very important area of medicine. As has been acknowledged throughout the debate, hospices have led the way, and the services that they provide not only to patients but to their families are immensely valuable, but provision is patchy and as our population ages much greater and more evenly spread provision will be required. The references in this Bill to palliative care are wholly inadequate. The clear recommendations of the Select Committee have been ignored. The Bill is defective in many ways. Other recommendations of the Select Committee that examined the earlier draft of the Bill have also been ignored and safeguards have been not strengthened but, regrettably, weakened.

Some of the most trenchant criticisms of the Bill have come from disabled people and their organisations. RADAR, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, has argued,

That view is emphatically supported by the Disability Rights Commission.

I am also worried about the reactions of frail and elderly people who will see themselves as being threatened, or at least under subtle pressure to reduce the burden on relatives by seeking early death. The "right to die" could so easily slip into becoming a "duty to die". More widely, there is validity in the "slippery slope" argument that the tightly prescribed right to physician-assisted suicide could gradually become a more general right to euthanasia. The Netherlands experience is relevant here, and I recall—I was a Member of Parliament for a considerable time—how our abortion law gradually slipped, without change to the legislation, away from a restricted right into, effectively, abortion on demand.

There are many arguments against the Bill but for me, at least, the most persuasive have been the clear and principled objections of religious leaders—Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh—who hold all human life to be sacred and worthy of the utmost respect. As a Christian and a Catholic, I judge the Bill to be ethically and morally wrong and my opposition is both principled and total. I will vote against the Bill by voting in favour of the amendment.

2.02 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, first, it is a privilege to take part in this remarkable debate. Three right reverend Prelates have contributed to it; but today is historic, because there are three Methodist ministers in this House and each is billed to take part in the debate too, so—who knows, Bishops?—we do not know who will be sitting on those Benches before very long.

As a Methodist minister, for 40 years I was a hospital chaplain. During that time, I must have met thousands of people, and the only people who wanted to die were the elderly, the tired and exhausted. One or two people well into their 90s would say, "Do you
12 May 2006 : Column 1247
know, Roger, we have had enough and we would be happy to go". I think that my memory is correct that not a single one of the others asked to die or to be assisted to die. Life holds some hope, especially given the new medicines and procedures available. There is always a glimpse of—a hope for—the future.

However, the people who I am concerned for—I visit them, too—are those unable to take decisions for themselves: those born with a handicap, who are not able to decide in favour of life or death. That ability is denied to them. I remember well the victim of a tremendously difficult car crash, who was lying for years in a total coma and was unable to do anything. He could not make any decision for himself. The question that I ask is: who will make decisions for such people? The old folk to whom I referred are not terminally ill. They are just terminally tired. Who will make a decision for them?

I shall be brief. Of course this Bill worries me. What worries me more is the Bill that might follow it—the slippery slope. Someone at some time will ask: "Who will make a decision for those who are unable to make that decision for themselves?".

2.04 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, we are about half-way through a debate that has been immensely impressive and informative on both sides of the argument. I particularly empathised with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Winston.

A week ago, I was with a friend who has suffered greatly in recent years. He has suffered enough to induce him to make more than one attempt to end his own life. He said to me, "I'd never heard the phrase 'palliative care' until very recently. And it has made all the difference"; and so it has—to the whole argument.

If we were still talking about dying in pain, I might have been much more inclined to accept the case for a change in the law. But I cannot in all conscience do it for what seems to be a quite different concept—for what the Select Committee called "existential suffering". Assisted dying in that context can all too easily come to mean accelerated dying, instead of what surely must be much more acceptable for family and for patient: tolerable dying; bearable, dignified dying.

Just what that means was made clear to me by journalist and broadcaster Daisy McAndrew's account of the recent death of her father, Alistair Sampson—a lifelong friend—in St John's Hospice, the only independent hospice in central London. This extract gives a flavour of the article:

Contrast that with the Select Committee's deeply depressing description of the typical Oregon applicant for medical assistance with suicide. It states that,

12 May 2006 : Column 1248

and that,

For me, those quotations, far from making the case for accelerated death, make exactly the opposite case for continued enhancement and increased availability of palliative care.

It is that which needs to be achieved nationwide, and certainly there should be an end to the current postcode lottery. There should be more hospice and community care, and more state resources for that, not more suicide. For me, St John's Hospice makes a much stronger case than the state of Oregon. I cannot support the Bill.

2.08 pm

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page