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Assisted Dying

January 17, 2012

Assisted Dying

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes on obtaining this very important debate. We have heard a lot about palliative care and the hospice movement and we recognise what a patchwork of provision there is in different parts of the country. I take on board the warnings from my hon. Friend Penny Mordaunt that that should not be used as an excuse to make assisted dying easier. I will concentrate my brief comments on assisted dying. In doing so, I will be taking up the challenge offered by my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, who talked about whose choice this was. It perhaps was inevitable that, in answering that question, my hon. Friend Tony Baldry, as the Second Church Estates Commissioner, took the view that the Almighty should make the determination. I recognise that many hon. Members present are strongly Christian, but I think that we have to face the fact that we live in a secular society. I do not think that that answer—perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek—will do as we go forward. My own view—this is perhaps strange, given that I am a legislator and a former lawyer—is that the law is not the right place to make these changes. The empire of the law should not necessarily stretch into this area, and that takes on board elements of ethics and the fact that I have some belief.

I have a great concern that a right to die will rapidly become a duty to die for elderly folk and disabled people. The way in which a society looks after its most vulnerable says much about it, and if we fail to look after such people, and allow the law to change, even in a relatively subtle way, whatever the so-called safeguards, that will be a dangerous step.

The reality is that much of this debate is happening in the context of tremendous funding problems in not only the national health service, but care for the elderly—an issue that has appeared across our newspapers in recent weeks. In a way, those funding problems and the issue of assisted dying are almost two sides of the same coin, with people looking at assisted dying as somehow being an easy way forward on those funding issues.

My concern about the law is that it is simply not the right instrument. It will not give anything like the safeguards we need; indeed, it might make life even more difficult for members of the medical profession and the police, who will be reluctant to do the right thing if the laws that are put in place notionally to provide safeguards simply regulate their lives more stringently in reality. I speak slightly from my own experience. It is 21 years ago almost to the month that my father died. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer seven or eight months before he died. I was his next of kin, and I must confess that I was very happy that we had a long-standing family doctor. My instructions, and indeed my father’s instructions, to our doctor were that my father did not want to die in pain, and that probably meant that he had more morphine, which might well have accelerated his death by a matter of days or perhaps even weeks. Such decisions should be made by the medical profession, but my worry is that any change we make in the law will make that right decision much more difficult, because it will be a regulated legal decision.

Above all, the problem is that, if we try to introduce such changes in the law, which is natural for us as legislators, we will end up introducing a charter for those who think there are elderly, disabled and other people whose lives have less value than those of the rest of us. That is a very dangerous way forward. Going forward, we will all have to fight. As my hon. Friend Glyn Davies rightly said, there is a vocal group that is keen to change the law. All of us must now get ready for a battle to stand up for the silent majority, who think, very much as we do, that the importance of life should not be underestimated at all.