Today, the House of Commons will be debating assisted dying for the first time in a generation. The Bill would mean that terminally ill, mentally competent adults, would have the right to control the timing and manner of their deaths.
It is a fundamentally important issue for Parliament to debate. Indeed I believe it is one of the rare examples where Parliament can truly debate issues of life and death.
It is therefore an issue that matters to everyone in British society.
We know that 82% of Britons support changing the law. However, there is a vocal minority that oppose the change. They believe that it will lead to society that devalues life, and practically send a message to disabled and elderly people that their lives have no value.
I believe it is right that we listen to the concerns of those who fear they will be affected by the Bill. But we have to look at what message the law is currently sending to terminally ill people who simply want control over their own deaths.
Currently, terminally ill people are already ending their own lives – over 300 people are year. They either do so by spending thousands of pounds to travel to Switzerland or by taking the matter into their own hands, often using dangerous methods.
No terminally ill wants to be ill, but their illness has robbed them of the choice to live. Those people that end their own lives do so because they face deaths that are either excruciatingly painful or are deaths they do not feel will be dignified. Their choice in the matter is not whether they die but how they die, where they die, and who they have around them in their last moments. And fundamentally, this comes down to giving individuals the right to choose.
The fact that their loved ones can currently be prosecuted for “assisting” them is not fair. More importantly they cannot talk to the very people who are best placed to help them have a pain-free and dignified death – their Doctors. Simply discussing the matter with a patient exposes doctors to prosecution under the current law.
There is some confusion about what the Assisted Dying Bill will do. It would not allow doctors to make a decision to end a patient’s life. It would not allow doctors to kill people. It requires the patient to administer the life ending medication themselves. It would not allow the disabled or elderly to have assisted deaths – only terminally ill people, of sound mind, with less than 6 months to live would be eligible. I believe that adequate safeguards have been built in to this bill.
It would simply allow terminally ill patients to request to have the medication that can guarantee them the pain free and dignified death they seek. They would have to convince two doctors and a high court judge that they have a clear and settled intention to die, and they can change their minds at any point.
I know many MPs on all sides have taken great time in deciding how to vote on this Bill. It is a very personal and emotive issue. For me it comes down to giving people the right to choose. We finally have the chance to give terminally ill people control over their deaths. I will be voting in support of the Assisted Dying Bill today, I hope my fellow MPs will join me.