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Lord Griffiths of Burry Port: My Lords, I am the third Methodist minister to speak in a short period, and the one who has chosen to stand a little above the Bishops. I will limit myself to one or two more forensic, rather than ideological or theological, points.
I was impressed among the welter of material that came my way to read a submission from the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which declares that it is neutral on this question, but argues that if autonomy and freedom to choose are really what we seek, there would be no genuine choice for those in its client group until the very best palliative care was available to all who needed it. In other words, it is not available now; the question of choice is, therefore, inappropriate and perhaps the timing of this initiative is wrong.
I was educated by the last debate, which encouraged me to readas a new boy in the House and I had not at that stage been part of the whole processthe Select Committee's report and the evidence that supported it. The All-Party Group on Dying Well makes the point that the Bill takes little or no account of the safeguards that were asked for in the Select Committee report, and it instances in detail the ways in which the Bill falls short of what was recommended in that report.
In a process that has clearly taken a number of years and has had several set-piece debates, with lengthy consideration from a large number of sources, how does it come about that, with the safeguards asked for not met, the all-party parliamentary group can conclude that the plain fact is that the Bill is not safe to be passed into law? If there is any truth in that conclusion, how can we assume that moving into Committee will give us greater guarantees that, by amendment, we will achieve those objectives? I find that very difficult.
"the number of people who might be regarded as serious about ending their lives, who are not psychiatrically ill and who are unlikely to be deflected from their purpose is very small indeed and comprises to a large extent terminally ill people who have strong personalities and a history of being in control of their lives and whose suffering derives more from the fact of their terminal illness and from the loss of control which this involves than from the symptoms of their disease".
I find that very compelling. Incidentally, in his opening remarks the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, quoted from that section without going quite as far as I did. To legislate
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for such a small number of people seems to me to do more than cross a Rubicon; it imposes the views of a tiny minority on the population at large when we have been arguing constantly throughout this debate that theologically motivated people have no right to impose their views on anyone else. For those reasonsalthough I would love to have a jousting match with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on the theological points that he introducedI find myself not only against the Bill but against taking it any further at this stage.
Lord Habgood: My Lords, I wonder whether this is really a good moment in history to be promoting a Bill which would directly legalise suicide, and almost certainly have the indirect effect of making it more respectable and even in some cases encouraging it. I realise that there are huge differences between the suicidal atrocities that we have witnessed in recent years and the suicidal feelings of sad people, conscious of failure, who feel driven by a desire to take their own lives.
I have no wish to question the intentions of the legislation before us, which I am sure is seen by its promoters as providing a purely beneficent solution to otherwise intractable problems. But suicide, by whatever means and in whatever circumstances, is still suicide. One of its alarming characteristics is the strange attraction that it can exercise over people who, for whatever reason, feel depressed, insecure and unwanted. There are occasions when suicide can be presented as noble, unselfish and imbued with a macabre kind of romanticism.
There is also the well known copycat phenomenon, whereby one suicide breeds more of the same. In the locality where I live, we have recently had a tragic instance of this, where one young man committed suicide by driving his car very fast into a wall and, within a month or so, was followed by another doing exactly the same to exactly the same wall. There is a kind of fascination in suicide which can be enormously tempting to people who are in any way unstable or depressed. Suicide also has a deeply wounding effect on those whose love and care is rejected. They wonder whether the victim of suicide was really asking, "Do they actually want me out of the way?".
Those are some of the reasons why I worry about having formal approval of suicide written into the statute book. We can add what safeguards we like but we will have changed the way in which suicide is viewed. We will have given it an acceptable moral status which it has never had before. We will have identified it as an acceptable means of escape, and thus will have made it more natural and more inevitable. The same kind of problem would arise were we to give approval to euthanasia by direct killing. The point has been made again and again that either means of death would in the long run change expectations, and damage trust in and undermine the culture of medicine and terminal care.
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That is why it is not enough just to amend the Bill, well intentioned though it is. The problems lie not so much in the details as in the underlying principle. The only wise course, therefore, is to reject it.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, for introducing the Bill and giving us the opportunity to discuss this highly sensitive and controversial subject. It is impossible for me to respond to all the e-mails, letters and communications that I have received from hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people wishing to share their opposing views on the Bill, so, through this debate, perhaps I may thank them for their concerns.
References were made earlier to the right reverend Prelates and the Christian communities. I stand before your Lordships as a Muslim supporting faith communities and others who believe that life is sacred and that only Almighty God, the creator of all, has the right and the power to end anyone's life, even if the patient is old, disabled and "terminally ill". Chapter 4, verse nine of the Koran says:
I am also seriously concerned that the rights of ethnic minorities, who are often more vulnerable as a result of language barriers and cultural differences, would be eroded. Large numbers of the Muslim population here work in, or are patients of, the National Health Service and they have the right not to be exposed to what is proposed in the Bill. We also have a responsibility to the rest of the world. We are on the international stage on so many issues. We cannot willingly allow the collateral consequences of our actions to kill off the humane development of palliative care services around the Muslim and Arab world.
We have a duty to alleviate suffering, as has been said by many speakers, but by killing the pain and not the patient. The hospice movement set up in the UK is a beacon of excellence worldwide, showing that suffering can be relieved. Doctors have for 2,000 years regarded helping patients to kill themselves as inconsistent with their role as healers. True dignity is not premature death made possible by a doctor but is, instead, dying naturally with one's physical, social and spiritual needs properly met. The Bill would contradict both the Hippocratic oath and British legal tradition. The advances made in research and development in the fields of analgesia and palliative care would be halted.
In today's medical world we have the technology, medication and skills to treat patients' symptoms in their early stages of life. I urge your Lordships to vote against the Bill. However well intentioned it is, it would have serious consequences for terminally ill people if it became law.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, as I sat by my husband in the accident and emergency department of Harrogate hospital holding on to his arm just a few
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weeks ago, life slowly ebbed away from him. I got a very strong feeling that to kill and not to try to save life would be the most dangerous thing we could give doctors and nurses to do. One has only to see how many vulnerable, sick, elderly and disabled people there are living here in England to know that already this Bill has frightened many of them.
My husband had been ill with several complicated conditions for 10 years. There had been dramatic times when he was in a critical state but he pulled through. But the weekend he died I had to depend on the out-of-hours doctor service. On the Saturday, one doctor had to come 24 miles, as my husband's chest was giving us concern. She gave him a liquid antibiotic, which we had to thicken because of swallowing problems. She suggested he have physiotherapy, but we could not get a physiotherapist for love nor money. The next day he had a temperature. I rang another out-of-hours doctor. She did not come out but said that she would try to talk to the physiotherapist on duty at Harrogate hospital for advice. She telephoned me back to say that she had not been allowed to talk to the physiotherapist. I have yet to try to find out why there should be such a policy in a three-star foundation hospital.
All the doctors felt that my husband was better at home because of the risk of infection in hospital. I found there were no facilities for giving an antibiotic through a drip at home, which he needed. When I rang a third doctor, each time taking longer for the doctor to ring back, it was arranged for my husband to go to hospital, as his breathing had become so bad.
I give this example to illustrate the need for palliative care to be available in a rural area when it is needed, including at weekends. When we arrived at the A&E department there was no way that the doctors could get access to my husband's GP notes, or those from the other hospital that had looked after him. All the talk about a modernised NHS IT system to improve communication seems not to have materialised.
Surely the challenge should be to make living better and safer so that vulnerable people are able to trust doctors and nurses and not fear that their life will be cut short. If there is unbearable pain there should be adequate pain relief. Who are we to play with death, which is what the Bill would do if enacted?
When my husband had his oxygen removed and he took his last breaths, still on a hospital trolley, there were a few moments which were sacred and peaceful as the end came. Life and death should be revered at all times.
Such a Bill will open the door to weirdos such as Shipman, Allitt, Geen and others who kill their patients. Staff will become even more complacent and disregard the need to protect patients as killing becomes normal practice. The prospect is chilling. This is a dangerous Bill that should be stopped before it is too late.
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