lords, morality

Assisted Dying – my view

Today the Lords debates this very difficult moral question. There are over 125 speakers limited to 4 minutes each. Rather than take up more of my peers’ time it seems more efficient to blog my views. One day maybe this approach will be embraced and such expression could be appended to the Hansard record.

This issue has generated a lot of correspondence – more than I have had for some time. Much is hand written, normally personal and very thoughtful. Opinion is evenly divided, although emailers seem more against and hand writers more for Charlie Falconer.

I am not religious. I note that Christian opinion is now split and I will say no more on the faith based arguments than to say that it seems we are happy to “play God” in preserving life, we “play God” when we put animals out of their misery, and in my irreligious state I don’t see the logic which says assisted dying is any different.

I am also not a medical professional. This bill would ask a lot of them and I hear the difficult ethical arguments. Much as with abortion we should not require any doctors to make these difficult decisions to assist suicide, it should be something they are ethically comfortable with.

Given what I am not I must therefore start with what I believe, based on my own experience.

As I was growing up my father had cancer on a number of occasions. Over thirty years before he died he was given a 50:50 chance of survival, and the same ten years later. His desire to live through that sickness, I suspect largely for his family, combined with the NHS to keep him going for many years. I am therefore cautious about how we define terminal illness.

I have been deeply moved by those who also were given a few months, were very depressed, but are now still alive and enjoying a quality of life. With this bill some of those people may have felt too much of a burden and been helped to die.

I also remember well my grandmother’s acute pain when she died and how grateful she seemed for her doctor being generous with the medication at the end. I strongly believe that this empathy is what most of us would want for ourselves in a similar position. That is why I support this bill, but I also know that this sympathetic use of potentially lethal pain relief is a treacherous place for doctors.

My own experience has therefore informed my thinking on Assisted Dying. This is a profoundly difficult issue where the balance between safeguarding the vulnerable and safeguarding the needs of the individual in tragic circumstances need to be weighed up very carefully.

I support the bill at second reading. However I will also want to see close scrutiny as it is improved by the parliamentary process, to ensure we learn from international experience and get the best safeguards in place that we can.

Image from http://www.theguardian.com/society/joepublic/2010/jan/12/assisted-dying-doctors-terminally-ill