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Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, this is the third time that a Bill of this kind has been laid before your Lordships' House. We have had a full Select Committee, 21 hours of parliamentary debate on the issue, 10 sitting days of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House and, of course, visits to three foreign countries to look at the law there. It is quite clear from this very balanced debate that there is no consensus here today—admittedly, more speeches have been made against the Bill, but some powerful speeches have been made in favour of it—nor was there in the Select Committee. For that reason alone, your Lordships should think very seriously about moving from debate to legislation.

My noble friend Lord Joffe and I have stood together on many issues in the past, and I would repudiate anyone who has cast doubt on his integrity in this question, but I told him at the outset of the debate that I believe there should be robust parliamentary debate about what is clearly a crucial ethical issue of our times. I believe that that has taken place.

The time is coming when we must reach a conclusion about the principles of a Bill which, as the noble Lords, Lord Brennan and Lord Carlile, and others have said, is not capable of amendment in a way that would be acceptable to a majority, not only of your Lordships' House, if today's speeches are to be believed, but also, of course, the royal colleges, which have been much cited, disabled groups, which have also been mentioned during our proceedings, and public opinion. Public opinion is difficult to gauge: correspondence has been overwhelmingly against, but
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the polls cited are only barometers and should not be the determining factor because they are very much divided. Surely, the next step should be not a Committee stage but a debate and a vote in another place on the principles behind this Bill. If we are to test parliamentary opinion, should that not be the logical way to proceed?

Much has been said in this debate about the overriding principle of choice. GK Chesterton once famously said that to admire mere choice is to refuse to choose. We all know that freedom for the pike is inevitably death for the minnow; freedom for the hunter, death for the hunted. Our noble friend Lady O'Neill of Bengarve, a very distinguished philosopher, said in a note to your Lordships yesterday:

She was saying that choice itself is not a trump card, which we have to bear in mind today when we consider the effects on society if a Bill of this kind were to be enacted.

We have heard many personal stories. When I was a child one of my uncles, in a fit of acute depression, took his own life. The repercussions on his immediate family, and on society at large when there are suicides, should not be underestimated in this debate. We must think about that effect very carefully. Once a life is taken, it cannot be given back.

Much has been made of the experiences in Holland and Oregon. In Holland, it started with turning a blind eye; then voluntary euthanasia; and then involuntary euthanasia, with 1,000 deaths now occurring each year. As others have said, that has led to the killing of spina bifida children. It has happened already at Groningen Hospital where it was done in order to push the law further. That is what happens when we move in that sort of direction. Other noble Lords have given further examples.

We heard from the noble Earl, Lord Arran, about Oregon. I simply draw to the attention of your Lordships' House the 2004 report by Fromme, Tilden, Drach and Tolle, entitled, Increased family reports of pain or distress in dying Oregonians: 1996 to 2002. It states that those dying in,

than in 1996–97. The evidence therefore is conflicting. There are many doubts about this legislation. We should think very carefully. Yes, let us have powerful debates like the one which we have had today, but do not let us proceed with legislation.

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Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I rise to support this Bill, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, on his presentation of it and to support its proceeding to Committee. Misinformation has been
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spread about the Bill. Such flirting with fiction has produced fear, bordering almost on hysteria at times. Many of those fears would have been allayed if the correspondents who wrote to me had been in a position to read the Bill, which the vast majority obviously have not done.

Misinformation is a dangerous weapon. It can influence even the most thoughtful and caring of people, like the doctor from Rugby who wrote to me and genuinely believed that he,

Expected to prescribe? Clause 7 makes it clear that anyone who has a conscientious objection would be under no duty to participate in any action at all.

Like others, I have received correspondence about the Bill from RADAR, the disability network, for which I have a great deal of respect and with which I have worked in the past. The organisation asked me,

suggesting that the Bill could run the risk of reinforcing public opinion that disabled people are somehow tragic figures to be pitied. As someone who has a disability and who in my previous life as a trade union official played a prominent part in establishing a disability rights group within my own union, Amicus, I am very conscious of societal views about those with disabilities. I would not support the Bill if I thought that it would reinforce such views.

I have no doubt that there is a small but significant group of terminally ill people who strongly and with great determination wish for assistance to die. I witnessed this personally when a close friend in his eighties, after a full and fit life, became terminally ill. He asked his son and daughter not to send for the doctor for resuscitation the next time he collapsed. They respected their father's views and he died with those he loved and as he would have wished. He knew he could not speak about assisted dying because of our laws, of the accusations which could be levelled at his relatives and the danger of their involvement. By then, he was not fit enough to travel abroad where others, as we all know, have found their escape from a life they no longer want to live. So we, as a country, banish such people at the time when they need their friends and family most of all.

Those who deliver palliative care do not receive enough support, especially financial support, to expand and build upon their vital work. I would support any efforts to improve that. But not everyone wants palliative care, and, for me, the provision of palliative care and assisted dying for those who want it are not counter proposals. Both are needed and demanded. Because of that, I believe that whatever happens in the Chamber today, this Bill, or one worded quite like it, will eventually become law.

Finally, I will reply to a lady with the same name as myself, Anne Gibson, who wrote to me from Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire. She said:

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3.28 pm

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, when a healthy adult commits suicide, they are normally found to have done so when the balance of their mind was disturbed. That means that we as a society have let them down. We have not given them the support they needed, spiritually, psychologically or with friendship. The same applies to those with terminal illnesses who request assisted suicide. We would not dream of giving a healthy adult the means to commit suicide. Why, therefore, should we ask doctors whose task it is to secure and support life to give terminally ill patients something with which they can commit suicide? So far as I am concerned, that goes right against the ethos of the medical profession.

It used to be said that hospitals were places where you went to die. That is not so today and I do not want it to become so again. This Bill could lead very easily to a slippery slope and things could get a lot worse. Rather than just the terminally ill, those with severe disabilities and those whom their family think are a burden will also consider this option. And let us not forget that in Select Committee on 16 December 2004 the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, who has introduced this Bill, said:

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