Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Newspaper column 9 September 2015 - Assisted Dying

This week the summer recess ends and MPs return to Parliament for what I am sure if going to be an interesting, and in many ways, challenging week.

With the refugee crisis dominating the media I am sure this is going to be a major topic for debate. I have been quite clear that we as a country should play our part and I am pleased the government has confirmed that we will be accepting genuine refuges from the camps in the Middle East. I will be watching and listening very carefully, both to the debate in Parliament as well as the many local people who are contacting me about this issue.

On Friday we will have the first Private Members Bill of this Parliament. This is when an individual MP has the opportunity to present a bill to the house on any issue of their choosing. The members are chosen by a ballot. The Bill being presented this Friday is seeking to legalise assisted suicide. This issue, probably more than any other that this Parliament is likely to consider, is a matter of conscience.

I have a great deal of sympathy for people on both sides of this issue. I have considered my own views very carefully before reaching a conclusion. My personal belief is that I could not support any legislation that would legalise assisted dying. I intend to attend the debate and I will be voting against the bill. There are many factors that bring me to this view.

Coping with terminal illness is distressing and difficult both for the patient and their families. These cases are truly moving and evoke the highest degree of compassion and emotion.

If, as a society, we made assisted suicide legal, we would in my view, be fundamentally changing the very foundation of our civil society. As a compassionate society, our response to suicidal feelings must never be a lethal injection.

No major disability group favours a change in the law. This Bill legitimises the idea that suicide is a solution for disability and sickness. Where assisted suicide is legal around the world, the data shows that those who choose suicide are almost invariably disabled. They need assistance to live, not assistance to die.

None of the Royal Medical Colleges support a change in the law. In fact, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Physicians, actively oppose such a change for that very reason. Legalising assisting dying would fundamentally change the nature of the doctor/patient relationship. A doctor is not a detective and cannot reasonably be expected to investigate all of the relevant social factors involved in such a grave decision.

I am also concerned that, as has been the case in other countries, legalising assisted suicide would lead to demands for legalisation of other forms of euthanasia – for example in Belgium, where in 2002, a euthanasia law was passed for adults, in 2014 – a law was passed enabling children to be euthanized.

My view is that if we were to legalise assisted dying we would be crossing a line that would lead to the devaluing of life. This is not something I am prepared to support.