BLUNT Crispin

Crispin Blunt is the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and is MP for Reigate.

Dying well is a question of growing importance: the successes of modern medicine have increased life expectancies exponentially, but the widening divide between a long death and a good death is increasingly apparent. This is not a complex philosophical proposal: anyone who has watched a relative or friend struggle and suffer, prodded and poked, stripped of personal autonomy, their life unnecessarily prolonged, knows that there is no intrinsic dignity in extended life alone.

The Assisted Dying Bill is a question of choice – the potential to die surrounded by loved ones, the potential to choose to die with dignity, the potential to choose to die, as you have lived, on your own terms. Our law allows the healthy and physically fit this option, yet prevents the sick. Every year, over 300 terminally ill people end their own lives, all too often alone and in distress through fear of prosecution.

Terminally ill people do and will continue to take their lives despite the current legal framework. Would we not rather that those death were regulated and managed so it might happen in the most compassionate and dignified manner possible? We have all heard the horror stories of botched attempts or plastic bags or people refusing food and water – we cannot sit back and continue to turn a blind eye to these manifold cruelties.

In Oregon only 0.3 per cent of total deaths were by assisted suicide last year, unless we are to assume radically different numbers in the UK, there are enough doctors who do not object to assisted suicide to carry out the procedure. In fact, based on the statistics from Oregon, we would only see 1000 assisted deaths a year in the UK – or, more concretely, one every 8-9 years per GP practice.

Opposition to assisted suicide has frequently and rightly been grounded in a fear that the safeguards behind such legislation could not ever be watertight enough. I am thoroughly convinced of the efficacy of Rob Marris’ Bill – to not trust the opinion of two doctors and a high court judge would show a remarkable paucity of faith in both the medical and legal professions.

We ask doctors to assess prognosis and mental capacity throughout their careers. Prognoses are not easy and can be inaccurate, but studies have shown again and again that it is over, not under, estimates of life expectancy that most frequently occur. This is, however, not the point. A six month or less prognosis establishes a stable framework to determine terminality; it is not there to create an arbitrary line in the sand. Such patients, would, by definition be on their deathbed, and to die how they want and with minimised suffering is a basic level of compassion and humanity to which we should all have access.

We must and ought to have a right to choose; despite appreciable concerns about what a valid choice looks like, the Bill before us reflects the complexities and realities behind the choice to end one’s life. The patient’s mental capacity cannot be in doubt, if necessary to be determined by a specialist in addition to the original 2 doctors, information about palliative, hospice and other end-of-life options is mandatory, the patient is entitled to revoke their choice at any stage and a mandatory 14 day cooling off period is included.

This is an issue of freedom of choice. The logo of my party was for a long time the torch of freedom. That is why I am surprised, even astonished, and certainly aggrieved that much opposition to this measure comes from the benches around me. I understand the Catholic and faith lobby, whilst being appalled that they should seek to legislate my personal autonomy for reasons of their faith. In the 21st century, mutual tolerance should have taken us beyond that.

It is the majority of the rest of my colleagues who have surprised me in my 18 years in the House. We are the party of freedom and choice. Surely there could be no greater demonstration of our commitment to these principles than the principle of this Bill. Hiding behind the “slippery slope” argument won’t do. If two doctors and a High Court judge isn’t enough, what is? Seek to insert in the Committee stage of the bill those safeguards that you feel are required. But don’t abandon the guiding principle of our party and oppose the freedom this Bill enshrines at second reading.

I am proud to stand with colleagues from both sides of the aisle and support this bill. Death is life’s only certainty: it gets no less certain if we close our eyes and just hope for the best. When my time comes, I hope the Parliament I will have been immensely proud to  be a member of has finally faced up to its responsibility to legislate on this, and will have given me and all our citizens the potential to exercise our liberty and freedom over the manner of our death.

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