Last week the House of Commons debated the Assisted Dying Bill. This Bill sought to make it legal for terminally ill people to be helped to commit suicide.
I received many letters, emails and campaign cards from constituents on this matter. There was heated representation for and against changing the law. Many wrote of their heart-wrenching personal stories. I know from looking after my own father before he passed away that coping with terminal illness is very distressing. This draft law was a very sensitive issue. Such cases are very difficult and it was right for the matter to be approached with the highest degrees of compassion.
I considered carefully all the arguments. But I was concerned that changes to the law could lead to vulnerable people being coerced into killing themselves. I worried that terminally ill people could feel pressurised to die because they viewed themselves as a burden on their families and wider society. I did not believe the safeguards in the Bill did enough to protect people from the risk of pressure.
So I voted against the bill. I believe all human life is intrinsically valuable. No one should be subject to weaker protections under the law because they are frail, sick or needy.
As it currently stands, the law provides a clear moral boundary that assisting a person to kill themselves is illegal. I was concerned that changing the law would weaken this clear position. Once the principle of assisted suicide is permitted, it would be the thin end of the wedge towards allowing assisted suicide in more circumstances.
We only have to look at how the law has changed in countries like Belgium, where assisted suicide is now allowed for those with depression or non-terminal illnesses. I believe changing the law would set a dangerous precedent and struggle to contain sufficient safeguards to counter this threat.
As medical science develops, more people will live longer. People will remain alive longer with terminal illnesses. We should celebrate more people reaching older age. But it's important we devote more resources to end-of-life care and supporting those with long-term terminal illnesses.
We also need to ensure patients and families have better access to palliative care. There needs to be a better link between health and social care, providing whole-person care and providing more support at the end of life. It's not good enough when patients slip through the cracks and don't get the care they need upon leaving hospital. I want more to have the option of great quality home care.
These are not easy decisions and it's important we take action now for the future. But I don't believe weakening the law to allow more elderly or sick people the opportunity to kill themselves is the right way forward. Instead, we need to ensure better end of life care so everyone can pass their last days in peace.
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