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Assisted Dying

November 11, 2008

Assisted Dying

 Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Unlike the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), I believe that the empire of the law should have some limits. It may be perverse for a legislator to say this, but I do not think that a change in the law would be the right way forward in this regard, although I very much understand the suffering involved in the individual cases to which he and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred in their speeches.

When my father was dying 18 years ago, I had a role, as his next of kin, to work with a long-standing family doctor to ensure that he had enough morphine?he was terminally ill with cancer?to ward off pain. To an extent, his life might have gone on a few days or weeks longer than it would have otherwise. That seemed to be the common-sense approach to the situation. This may seem rather hypocritical, but I think that, at times, we should perhaps turn a blind eye to what are often desperately difficult circumstances.

We must recognise that, as a compensation and blame culture becomes more prevalent around the world and in this country, medical professionals in particular will become increasingly reluctant to do the right thing if there are laws in place that may be seen to provide safeguards but simply regulate their lives more strongly.

I have fears about an assisted dying, or euthanasia, regime putting pressure on elderly people who do not have an immediately life-threatening condition. In essence, the right to die could morph into a duty to die.

I believe that I can refer to the recent high-profile case of the 23-year-old rugby player, Daniel James, who was taken by his parents to Switzerland. It was a dreadful case. One of the most disquieting aspects was that, when the story came into the public domain some months after his death in Switzerland, his parents referred to his having been a second-class citizen, given the injuries that he had sustained. Those injuries were serious and may not have come through even under the Joffe safeguards. They massively affected quality of life but were not life-threatening. It was envisaged that Daniel James could well have lived for some decades to come. What was worrying was the notion of his in any way having a second-class life or being a second-class citizen. Saying that some lives are more valuable than others is dangerous.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab): Would the hon. Gentleman confirm, however, that if Lord Joffe?s Bill had been enacted that individual would not have been able to secure the right to die, because of the protections in that legislation?

Mr. Field: Absolutely. In many ways, the case demonstrates some of the difficulties that we face in trying to frame a law that will cover all the cases that we would wish to cover, while ensuring that individuals have the right to die or to go through an assisted-dying process.

What worried me most about the case was the lack of common sense shown by the police. The reality of the situation?this may sound rather hypocritical?is that the police must take a common-sense approach. As someone who believes in a higher being?unlike the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon?I think that perhaps the judge in these ethical and moral matters should not be on this planet but elsewhere.

I was encouraged by the Minister?s comment that there had been zero prosecutions in the nearly 50 years since the Suicide Act 1961. [Hon. Members: ?Imprisonment.?] No imprisonment, although there may have been prosecution and some investigation.

We need to take a much more common-sense approach to these desperately difficult ethical matters. I am glad that we are having this debate. I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and I hope that as many people as possible will be able to put their viewpoints across in the course of the debate. We will obviously be interested to hear some of the Government?s thinking about how this element of the law should be changed, if at all.