Lib Dem MPs contribute to Commons debate on assisted dying

On Monday, MPs debated a petition, supported by Esther Rantzen, aimed at changing the law to allow assisted dying. Several Lib Dem MPs contributed to the debate, all making points in favour of changing the law.

Here are their contributions in full:

Christine Jardine

I was thinking today about all those evenings when I was allowed to sit with my parents and watch “That’s Life!”, and how I could never have envisaged this moment. With all the successful campaigns in which Dame Esther Rantzen has been involved in her astonishing career, there can surely be none that has touched a nerve with the British public in so widespread a way as this one. Her involvement with this petition, which 555 people signed in my constituency alone, shows me that there is a momentum among the British public: a desire to see a national debate on the subject and for their Parliament to reflect their view, which we see in so many opinion polls nowadays. It is not a party political issue, but for the record my party, which believes in the freedom, dignity and wellbeing of individuals, has long supported the idea of a free vote in Parliament and would welcome a free vote in the next Parliament for us all to make the choice.

I find myself in the strange position where my colleague Liam McArthur is currently steering a private Member’s Bill on this issue through the Scottish Parliament. If he is successful, I would hypothetically have a choice denied to so many other people in this room—a significant choice. Another Bill that is about to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament by a Conservative MSP is about improving palliative care. Liam and Miles Briggs are working together, because the two are not mutually exclusive. We should see it as a choice between assisted dying or palliative care not for us, but for the individuals affected. They should have the choice.

The time has come when we need to recognise that there is momentum; other parts of the UK will make decisions on this shortly. I must be honest with Members and say that I do not know what decision I would make. I saw my parents die very different deaths: my father suddenly from a heart attack when very young, and my mother very slowly of a horrible asbestos-related disease. I do not know what they would have wanted. I do not know what I would want, but I do know that I want everybody to have the choice that they want. The time has come when we should recognise this petition and what it asks us to do, and look at a very narrow form of agreement to assisted dying when someone has a terminal diagnosis and has made that decision at a time when they were mentally capable of doing it, and when a medical intervention is involved. Ultimately, they get to make the last, perhaps most important and most personal decision that they could make.

Sarah Dyke

It is an honour to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Latham. I thank the hon. Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) for bringing forward this important debate. I also thank the petitioners, including 645 in Somerton and Frome, and everyone who reached out to me ahead of the debate. Your experiences have touched me deeply, as have the experiences of hon. Members here.

One constituent wrote to me about her son, Jonathan, who died in a hospice at the age of 46. His family told me that the tragedy of his death was made so much worse by the lack of provision for assisted dying. Jonathan’s mother, Denise, gave me a quote that I think sums up today’s debate very well:

“It’s not about ending life, it’s about shortening death”.

I want to mention Dorothy House, which offers free palliative care and end-of-life care across much of my constituency. It remains neutral on this issue, but shared its ethos with me earlier today:

“Dorothy House has a vision of a society where death is a part of life”.

I cannot thank Dorothy House enough for the support that it provided me and my partner while we were caring for my partner’s mother in her final few months, as she was dying of cancer. Having cared and watched this strong, independent and dignified woman fade away in considerable pain, unable to have the dignified death that she wanted, will forever haunt me.

The UK public have stated that they would support provisions to make assisted dying legal in the UK. Research carried out in January this year by Dorothy House, which gathered 401 responses, showed that 69% of respondents would support the law being changed to allow assisted dying for someone suffering from a terminal illness. The findings are backed up by a recent Opinium poll for Dignity in Dying, which showed that 75% of people in the UK support assisted dying. The analysis showed that there is majority support for assisted dying in every constituency in the country. In the new constituency of Glastonbury and Somerton, 80% of people support the change, which is the third highest level of support in the country.

I am committed to championing the freedom, dignity and wellbeing of individuals, and respecting their right to freedom of conscience, but the issue is complex and divisive—hence why it is vital that any legislation that provides for medical assistance to die in particular circumstances is subject to rigorous safeguards and regulations. That is also why it is important that this topic is debated fully in Parliament, and that any new legislation is robustly scrutinised. I hope that we can be reassured today that we will see progress over forthcoming parliamentary Sessions.

 

Alistair Carmichael made a short intervention to remind MPs of Liam McArthur’s Bill which is currently starting its journey in the Scottish Parliament. This measure would allow people who were diagnosed with a terminal illness to seek assisted dying at the end of their lives, with many safeguards to ensure that they were doing so willingly and freely.

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2 Comments

  • David Symonds 1st May '24 - 3:25pm

    This is a very emotive and emotional topic but i strongly believe in changing the law to allow assisted dying. Everyone should choose their own death as long as strong safeguards are in place to prevent abuses of the system. Those in favour of the status quo say that many want to bump off relatives to get their money but i don’t think that is fair on families at all. Those in favour of status quo need to ask why they are content to see people who are terminally ill suffering needlessly if someone has given their express view that they wish to die with dignity. It cannot be fair or right that the person’s family can be prosecuted for assisting that person and some are paying a lot to go to Dignitas. We treat animals who are ill better than human beings in this regard. Even George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, supports reform and we should do the same on a free vote in the Commons after the next election. The current status quo is unfair and unsustainable.

  • Peter Hirst 7th May '24 - 5:06pm

    I suspect few people who attempted suicide and failed regret having done so. This is not to oppose assisted dying. We have one life and so should think very carefully before ending it. With a terminal illness most if not all will have given the act considerable thought. Who are we to interfere with that process, just ensure that that thought has been given?

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