Tag Archives: assisted dying

Vince Cable: Why I changed my mind on assisted dying

In the final of our three MPs’ speeches in favour of assisted dying, Vince Cable explains what prompted him to change his mind on the issue.

I thank the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), my right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) and others for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject. Members have spoken movingly and from experience about their views.​

I am someone whose views have radically changed. Until recently I was a vehement opponent of assisted dying, but I have changed my views and think I should explain why. That change is partly based on an understanding of why I was previously opposed to it, which was due to my own personal experiences. Two of those experiences were relevant, and I think they will resonate with many Members of the House.

One experience concerned my elderly mother who descended, as many do, into confusion and dementia, compounded by mental illness and depression. One week she would say, “Please, please end my life. I am a burden. I want to go”, but a few weeks later she would be enjoying the simple pleasures of life. I could see all too clearly that under a permissive system of assisted dying, people like my late mother would be extremely vulnerable.

My conviction at that time that assisted dying was the wrong route was compounded by my experience with my late wife, who contracted breast cancer and had a very long illness. She eventually died at home with good palliative care, surrounded by a loving family. She was vehemently opposed to assisted dying and wanted to live her life to the full. I guess that I took the view that that was her choice but should also be everybody’s choice.

I came to realise, however, that there are very different situations we need to understand. One thing on my conscience is that in my 20 years as an MP, two constituents came to see me to request help and political support for a campaign in the High Court to be allowed to die through assisted dying and, although I expressed sympathy, as one would expect, I declined to support their campaign. I was very wrong to do so. Both suffered from motor neurone disease, and I think many of us know of such cases. One has surfaced today: a man called Richard Selley in Perth, in Scotland, who is fighting for the right to assisted dying. I think we all know the nature of this condition. Although some people live with it, Professor Hawking being a famous example, in most cases it involves the physical degeneration of all bodily functions combined with absolute clarity of mind and very great suffering. It seems to me that we should consider the position of those living with it and similar conditions.

The argument that is deployed against doing so is that hard cases make bad law. That was quite well summarised by Lord Sumption, who gave the Reith lectures a few years ago, when he said assisted dying should be criminalised but that the criminal law should be broken. That is a somewhat strange way of putting it, but essentially what I think he was saying was that we should keep the law but turn a blind eye to exceptions and treat them compassionately.

I have thought about that argument, but it seems to me that the evidence is very strongly against it for a variety of reasons. However sensitive the Director of Public Prosecutions or the police might be—I am sure they are; the 2015 guidance is very humane—the sheer process of going through a criminal investigation and a caution is deeply traumatic, and probably the most difficult period of any person’s life. It is probably also difficult for the police who have to implement it.

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Grey areas: Norman Lamb describes the nightmare ordeal of a family over Mum’s death

This weekend we are publishing the speeches of Lib Dem MPs in the recent debate on assisted dying.

Norman Lamb described at length the nightmare a family went through as doctors and police reacted to their terminally ill mother’s attempt at suicide.

It brings home the reality of the issues people face.

Should we really be putting grieving relatives through police interrogations? As Norman says, this family’s experience shows the need for a change in the law.

It was a pleasure to join the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) in applying for this debate. I want to use my time to tell the stories of two constituents. The first is Vonnie Daykin, who has come to Parliament today to hear the debate. She has talked about how she witnessed her uncle and her father die of Parkinson’s and her mother die of motor neurone disease. She says that her mother went through living hell, but ultimately had no choice and was forced to suffer “until the bitter end”.

I also want to spend a little time quoting my constituent, Zoe Marley. Her words deserve to be heard in Parliament, so if I may, I will quote from an email that she sent me. She says:

“In January 2018 my mum Judith Marley was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer…She had nursed her own mother with cancer and had seen numerous ‘bad’ deaths. From the outset, she announced that she would not let the cancer do its worst, but would formulate a plan to escape the terror. No matter how marvellous the palliative care, she didn’t want it.”

That is her right, incidentally.

“She was a very private person; her death should have been a private affair instead of the circus that it became. On a warm July afternoon in 2018, she took a framed picture of her mum, a bottle of Drambuie and approximately 70 sleeping pills into the garden and in this most cherished place, she proceeded to attempt to take her life.”

After some considerable time, her daughter found her there; she had not died and then started to come round. Zoe was then placed into an impossibly invidious position, not knowing whether to call an ambulance. Her mother had already given her lasting power of attorney and did not want resuscitation—her legal right. Ultimately, however, because of the impossible situation that her daughter was in, she had to call an ambulance. Zoe says:

“Her wishes to stay at home and not be admitted to hospital were my priority as her LPA. But was I technically assisting her suicide? My lack of action could be considered supporting a suicide. I was terrified of the consequences of my inactivity. We waited but no change, the day was cooling down and I wanted her to be comfortable.”

In the end, an ambulance was called, and a doctor also attended.

Zoe writes:

“The doctor was unsympathetic. He said he had spoken to an on-call psychiatrist and that he was within his rights to call the police so they could take her to hospital. He was threatening and arrogant, telling me if Mum died there would be a police investigation and she would have a full autopsy. It all made me sick to my stomach. All this time my beautiful Mum laid outside while my ​daughter held her hand. I had somehow found myself embroiled with a medical team that had no understanding of how to interpret the law. The doctor called the police and three officers arrived. I have never had the police come to my door. It was demeaning and frightening. Once again I showed them my Mum’s paperwork and begged them to bring her inside. They seemed unsure of what to do, the expression ‘grey area’ was used a lot.”

To answer the point of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), grey areas cause enormous distress, as in this case. Zoe continues:

“After much confusion they insisted they take Mum to hospital. I was now indignant and focused on what Mum wanted. I made it very clear I would obstruct them. I felt everyone was ‘trying to cover their backs’ which meant disregarding my Mum’s wishes.

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Christine Jardine: MPs have a free vote on assisted dying. We should not deny choice to those who deserve it

Last week the Commons debated assisted dying. In a moving debate, MPs outlined some heartbreaking situations. Three of our MPs, Norman Lamb, Christine Jardine and Vince Cable, spoke. We’ll be publishing their speeches this weekend.

Christine Jardine outlined one particular irony: MPs have a choice that they don’t extend to those who are in the situation where they need it.

This is undoubtedly a hugely emotive and controversial subject, but I thank the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) for giving us the opportunity to discuss it. I am convinced that I have not just a right, but a duty to work for changes in the law that will make it possible for people to have the individual right to choose their own time and manner of death. I am talking about people who, otherwise, will face a situation that will soon be very painful and that will also cause a great deal of stress to their family members. I have been lucky: I have not had to go through the sort of experience that we have heard about from other Members of the House.

Two years ago, I had a conversation with my husband about a friend who, we had just heard, had been given a terminal diagnosis. It was January. We said, “This year will be difficult. Christmas will be difficult. We will have to think about how to deal with it, but it will not be easy for him or for his family.” The irony of that conversation has never left me, because neither my husband nor the friend actually lived until Christmas, but the difference was that my husband died very suddenly. Our friend went through a long, painful, lingering death. If there had been a way that he could have been spared that, I would have wanted him to be offered that choice. There is also an irony in the fact that had I had the choice for my husband, I would have chosen the death that he had, rather than the one that our friend had.

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Vince: I have changed my mind on assisted dying

Vince Cable has become the first party leader to come out in favour of the legalisation of assisted dying.

We don’t often link to the Daily Mail, but will make an exception for Vince’s incredibly moving article. 

He talked about losing both his mother and his first wife and how he at that point was opposed to assisted dying becoming legal.

He says he has changed his mind after listening to the concerns of constituents.

And he describes how he and his wife Rachel have discussed the issue:

We both agreed that if ‘assisted dying’ were legal, we could not allow the other to suffer intolerable pain should they wish to bring it to an end.

Vince  has spoken before about his mother’s breakdown as a result of Post Natal Depression and how adult education played a huge part in her recovery. In later life, though, she suffered mental illl health again.

When I visited her towards the end of her life she sometimes begged to die, to be released from her unhappy state; but on other occasions she insisted on her love of life; simple pleasures like a walk in the park, and by the river.

Without self-worth, however, she was obsessed about being a ‘burden’. I could see all too clearly that, in a permissive regime for assisted dying, fragile and muddled people like my mother would easily be persuaded to sign up.

When his wife Olympia died from Breast Cancer in 2001, she would never have considered assisted dying:

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Assisted dying – an expression of individual freedom

This resolution proposed by PLC, Partido Liberal de Chile and supported by D66 of Netherlands and LIBG Liberal International British Group was hotly debated during the Human Rights Committee session at the 200th Executive Committee meeting of Liberal International held at the headquarters of the Free Democratic Party of Germany in Berlin this weekend.

Despite strong reservations from several delegates to the original wording and a proposal to refer back, a ŷlast minute re-write during the session which addressed all of the reservations expressed led to success, with a large majority of delegates voting for the resolution during the following …

Posted in Europe / International and News | Also tagged | 7 Comments

Alex speaks out on assisted dying

Alex Cole-Hamilton, our Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western, wrote an article for the Edinburgh Evening News on Tuesday, giving his personal views on assisted dying.

It opens

We lost my father-in-law shortly before Easter. He passed in the comfort of his home surrounded by love and light and in the arms of his family. It was an end to aspire to. Such a passing is not afforded to everyone, however, and I grieve for those families who have seen their loved ones struggle in pain, indignity and distress for protracted periods before the end. Public policy change around end of life care remains one of the hottest political potatoes out there and to my mind we’re still not getting it right.

Alex feels passionately that

If we reach the limit of human endurance, if the pain goes beyond the grasp of palliative care; we should have the human right to say: “this far and no further” and be assisted, with proper safeguards to take such steps as necessary to quit this life in dignity.

He goes on to say

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Norman Lamb MP writes…Why I support assisted dying

You will have probably heard by now that the Assisted Dying Bill was defeated in Parliament this afternoon by a margin of about three to one.

The scale of victory for opponents of the Bill was almost exactly the same as when it was last debated in 1997. This is remarkable, given the degree of public support for reform – over 80% according to a poll earlier this year. I respect the deeply held convictions of those who oppose assisted dying but I can’t help but reflect on how out of step with public mood Parliament appears to be on this issue of such profound importance.  And before anyone reacts – yes I understand we have a representative democracy and I know that it cuts both ways. I am deeply relieved that Parliament has always rejected hanging!

I used to oppose assisted dying. I shared the concerns of many people about the risk this could pose to vulnerable individuals under pressure from greedy relatives. However, in recent years my views have been challenged.

During my time as a Health Minister and my years as a Member of Parliament I have heard the testimonies of people with terminal conditions, often in great pain, who wanted the right to end their suffering with dignity and in a way of their choosing. Listening to these stories has forced me to confront the principles at stake.

Ultimately, the question surely is: should it be the individual or the state who decides? For me, as a Liberal, there can be no doubt. I know that I would want the right to decide for myself, so I cannot deny it to others.

As Care Minister, I was completely focused on improving end of life care, an area of medicine too often neglected in the past. I had to address really serious concerns about how the Liverpool Care Pathway had been applied in many hospitals as a one size fits all protocol.

What has emerged from the review I initiated is a new approach which focuses completely on the priorities and needs of the individual patient. There is a strong consensus now that, at the end of life, the patient’s wishes come first – on resuscitation, on where to die and so on. How odd then, that when it comes to the most profound question of all, we deny the person the right to decide.

The current legal situation is not just a messy compromise; it is cruel and wrong. We put families into the most invidious position. If they act out of compassion in helping a loved one to die, they still face having their home declared a ‘crime scene’ and then face an investigation which could go on for months, interfering horribly with the process of grieving. The DPP guidelines talk about ‘the suspect’. Surely we can’t put people through this.

Some people, of course, travel to another country to end their life, if they can afford it. But even that is, surely, grotesque – expecting a dying person to travel to an alien clinic in another country, when they could be at home with loved ones. For those who can’t afford to travel, they face the dreadful choice of soldiering on, perhaps in great pain and loss of dignity – or commit suicide. A Labour MP today wrote of how his own father ended his life in this way. Surely, again, this is intolerable.

Another concern people often raise is that giving people the right to die would somehow distract from, or conflict with, steps to ensure excellent palliative care. But good palliative care and assisted dying are in no way incompatible. It is up to Parliament to ensure that we invest enough in palliative care. In Oregon, where assisted dying has been lawful for many years, there is better access to specialist palliative care than in most other states.

John Stuart Mill wrote: “The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

I will keep campaigning for that sovereignty to be respected at the end of life, despite the defeat in Parliament today.

Posted in News and Op-eds | 24 Comments

Norman Lamb MP writes: I want us to lead the way in Parliament to allow assisted dying

For many years, I opposed attempts to legalise assisted dying.  I had concerns, shared by many, that the risk to the most vulnerable individuals outweighed the benefits.  Equally, I respect those with deeply held religious concerns.
 
But my views have been challenged in recent years. As an MP and in my role in the last Parliament as a health minister, I have spoken to many terminally ill patients, and the families of those who suffered slow deaths in great pain.
 
So many of them were convinced, when someone is suffering intolerably, and when they are reaching the end of their life, they should be allowed to end their suffering with dignity, and with the support of those closest to them.
 
These testimonies have forced me to think again. Would I want the right to decide for myself, when faced with terminal illness, when I wished to die? And would I want it for loved ones? The answer is unequivocally, yes. 
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Lord Avebury’s personal story – why he wants the option of assisted dying

eric aveburyLiberal Democrat peer Eric Avebury, a great friend of this site, has been talking to the Dignity in Dying website about why he feels so strongly that assisted dying should be an option, to help him avoid a “very terrible” death from his blood cancer.

I am committed to campaigning for terminally ill, mentally competent people to have the right to an assisted death. I have an incurable disease, a form of blood cancer called myelofibrosis, where the inside of the bone marrow turns to fibre and it no longer produces blood, so you suffocate. I have been told that it can be very terrible in the last stages.

It is a debate that the public have been engaging in for many years and finally Parliament has decided to catch up. I have had my own conversations with my family. My wife comes to all my consultations and we have discussed assisted dying. She knows that the ideal would be to have a peaceful death at home and for palliative care to deal with any serious pain, but if it doesn’t she would respect my decision to have an assisted death – assuming the Bill is passed by then. I am not keen on the idea of travelling to Switzerland and we haven’t discussed that option. My four children know my views and don’t object to them either.

I obviously have a personal stake in the Bill and the future of the assisted dying campaign. Currently I am not in the latter stages of my illness and I am very hopeful that this year will not be my last.

I am confident that, when this time comes for me, assisted dying for terminally ill people will be a legal right in the UK, and I will be able to plan the death that I want.

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Opinion: Assisted dying

LilyThe Assisted Dying Bill returns to the House of Lords this week following high-profile interventions by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby , and his predecessor-but-one, George Carey.

While the bill may receive a second reading in the Lords, it stands little chance of progressing in the Commons. This is because key MPs, including David Cameron and Nick Clegg, are firmly against it. I respect the sincerity of Cameron and Clegg’s concerns, but I also believe their stated views show that they have not approached the issue in the right way. It is vital that any debate in the commons is open and honest, and not skewed by prejudice or emotion. MPs could do worse than begin the debate by considering the views of the two archbishops, which actually advanced the quality of the public discourse quite significantly.

Posted in Op-eds | 17 Comments

Opinion: Choose Life

The spring conference at Brighton 2012 proposed a motion (F20) on Medically Assisted Dying which was carried and I was the only one who spoke against it. Now Lord Falconer has introduced a Bill on Assisted Dying for which I feel compelled to make a case against. On the wall at Lib Dem head office it say “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity“.The motion and …

Posted in Op-eds | 23 Comments

3 facts about assisted dying (or ‘it’s not all about Switzerland you know’)

The debate around legalising assisted dying seems increasingly to centre on the case of suicide tourism; whether people should ‘have to’ travel to clinics in Switzerland where they can legally end their lives. Whilst this is undoubtedly an important trend, it is merely a side show to the real issue and masks three important facts about assisted dying.

1 – Very few people travel to Switzerland to end their lives.

In the last 10 years less than 200 people have travelled to Switzerland to end their lives. That’s quite a lot. However, it’s far fewer than the estimated 500

Posted in Op-eds | 32 Comments

Eric Avebury writes: Assisted dying

Over the last 20 years I have had a few close shaves that made me think about death, including a quadruple bypass, a burst colon, lung cancer and an aortic aneurysm. None of these were conditions that involved more than temporary pain and a fairly low risk, though as Hamlet’s mother says:

‘All that lives must die
Passing through nature to eternity.’

But then in August 2011 I was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, an incurable form of blood cancer, that ultimately leads to various unpleasant and painful symptoms, needing frequent blood transfusions to prevent the arteries seizing up with fibres. Would I then want …

Posted in Op-eds | 52 Comments
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