I appreciate that end of life care and the law concerning assisted dying are extremely complex and emotive issues, and that there are strongly held ethical and moral arguments on both sides.
It is important that there is an opportunity for Parliament to debate this issue and to consider the differing views that people hold on assisted dying and so I am pleased that so many MPs have stayed in Westminster for that debate, ahead of the vote, today. This Bill would enable adults who are terminally ill to be provided, at their request, with medically supervised assistance to end their own life.
Having already received hundreds of emails and letters about the assisted dying bill, and having read and listened to the often incredibly emotive experiences that my constituents have shared with me, I have arrived at the decision that there should be a change in the law to give terminally ill patients the option of dying with assistance, subject to clear safeguards. I also believe that this would provide much needed clarity around the existing law on assisted dying, which has led to serious concern in a number of cases in recent years.
To give you some clarity on the safeguards within the bill, eligible patients must be 18 and above, terminally ill with a life expectancy of less than 6 months and of a sound mind. Those living with dementia for example would not be covered by the bill, nor would anyone who was living with a disability, no matter how serious, unless they also had a terminal illness.
The patient would have to sign a declaration requesting to end their own life. This declaration would have to be counter-signed by the patient’s own doctor who verifies that the patients is of a sound mind and is acting voluntarily. It would then have to be counter-signed by a second independent doctor who verifies that this is correct. Finally, a high court judge would then need to agree that the patient has met the criteria, and that the information provided by the doctors is accurate.
There will then be a cooling-off period of 14 days, before the patient would then have the option to self-administer a lethal dose of medicine provided by their doctor. Only the patient themselves can do this, under medical supervision, and can change their mind at any time.
I believe that the Bill will give those nearing the end of their lives options in a compassionate and dignified way. I also am supporting this change in the law because of flaws in the current law, and believe that the safeguards in this bill are much more robust than those very limited measures which are currently in place.
We now know that on average one person every two weeks makes the journey to Dignitas in Switzerland to end there own lives. Terminally ill British citizens are already making the decision to end their own lives, yet this is an option that is only available to those who can afford it. I believe that this legislation will simply give those who are approaching the end of their lives, the option to spend their last days as they wish.
However I must stress that I will continue to support more being done to improve care for those with terminal illnesses, and to support carers who provide essential care to people at the end of life.
This, along with earlier and faster diagnosis of terminal conditions, would also help improve patients’ quality of life at this extremely difficult time.
I appreciate all of the letters, emails and messages that I have received from constituents on this issue and I have not reached my point of view lightly.
I will continue to update those who are interested in this bill as it progresses through Parliament.