Assisted dying is one of the most difficult issues I have encountered as an MP. I do not disagree that there are cases where people are likely to suffer a great deal of pain and discomfort, when a planned and painless death may be the best way forward. However, the problem with legislating on an issue like this is that the law is universal and I am concerned about the effect such a law may have on people outside cases like the one above, as well as on medical staff.
For example, there is no guarantee that even a terminally ill patient is in the last six months of life. There are numerous examples of people at their lowest, thinking about death, who have rallied and had several more months, if not years, of worthwhile life. Even sufferers of debilitating conditions can live for a long time with a terminal illness and spend valuable time with their families. Too many of my friends have died not to realise that even precious extra months are important.
I also worry about vulnerable people, perhaps elderly people who have recently lost their partner. They may be depressed, or feel that they are a burden to their families. Many elderly people suffer from some kind of progressive mental of physical condition, though it may be slow moving. Such a person might understandably say that they no longer wish to live, but I believe that, with the right support, especially from friends and family, they can continue to live a happy life.
Likewise, I worry that legalising assisted dying could place a huge burden on vulnerable people, people with disabilities, people who feel that they are spending their children’s inheritance by having nursing care and so forth. The Royal College of Surgeons put it very well ‘The right to die may become the responsibility to die, making vulnerable people even more vulnerable’.
Finally, I have concerns about the impact this would have on doctors called upon to take these very difficult decisions. I know that many have expressed deep unease at this prospect and I would want to see them sufficiently protected.
As and when legislation does come before the Commons, I will look closely at it to see if it contains sufficient safeguards to allay these concerns before making a final decision as to how to vote.
I hope to attend the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life on the 27th of April, but if I am unable, one of my team will be attending so we can hear everyone’s views.