Chloe Smith: Why I’m supporting assisted dying
- Credit: Steve Adams
There's an extremely serious vote coming up in Parliament: on Assisted Dying. Readers may shudder at this – it's a hard one. We think of what we would want for our loved ones or ourselves.
I hold a strong view myself on how I personally would want to be treated.
All sorts of people in north Norwich have contacted me, and I think the postbag reflects the national polling that over 80pc of people support a change in the law.
I take every matter of conscience in Parliament very seriously, and although I can't satisfy every constituent with my one vote in the Commons, my duty is to listen well, think carefully and clearly explain my decision. I intend to support the proposed Bill. Here's why.
First of all, what's the problem?
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It's that people suffer from terminal illnesses, and the current law is unclear on how they may be helped to die in accordance with their own wishes.
People are forced to take often hidden, undignified and desperate action. Anecdotally, for compassionate reasons, some doctors are complicit in hastening patients' deaths. Some relatives and loved ones are doing likewise. Some patients just refuse food. Some – who can afford it – are going to Switzerland. We are 'getting by' with guidelines on prosecution from the Director of Public Prosecutions, but surely the law should be made properly by Parliament.
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I think we should aim to bring these awful ethical choices into the light, giving people dignity and support.
Surely we do not have to make carers risk a murder or manslaughter charge alongside their grief.
So a Bill is being proposed to enable competent adults who are terminally ill to choose to be provided with medically supervised assistance to end their own life. Rob Marris, the MP responsible for the Bill, is clear about what the Bill does and does not allow.
It does allow a patient to self-administer medication to end their own life. It does not allow euthanasia.
It does allow a terminally ill patient who is of sound mind to seek assistance.
I believe in a person's right to determine their own life and the manner of ending their life. It's a sovereign principle. We can all agree that life is precious. But we each own our lives; no one else defines the value of our lives for us. This concept is already deep in the NHS, which generally aims to provide 'patient-centred care' and talks of 'no decision about me without me.'
The Church of England, rightly, is very thoughtful on this issue.
It highlights that 'the current debate is not only about an individual's wish to die, but it is also about the limits that ought to be placed on one person participating in bringing about another person's death.' Ultimately, this Bill would allow the drugs only ever to be self-administered.
Some are concerned that unscrupulous family members could pressure the patient 'not to be a burden.' But this Bill proposes that a patient is only eligible for assisted dying if they are already terminally ill and of sound mind. I believe it has adequate safeguards in asking the views of the patient, two doctors and a High Court judge.
Mr Marris explains that 'in Oregon, where there has been a similar law for 17 years, every such death has been and is investigated, and there is absolutely no evidence of such pressures being brought to bear.'
Some have said that disabled people are generally opposed to this proposal. This Bill is only about terminal illness, not disability. I dislike labelling people's views in any case, but disabled activists emailed me to say: 'Disabled people have fought hard for our own dignity, greater independence and access to opportunities over the years. We believe affording terminally ill people greater dignity and independence at the end of their lives and over their own bodies is no different.' And do doctors want to do it? Mr Marris adds that there is no evidence of pressure on doctors in Oregon, and that the Bill provides for any medical person to refuse to participate on the grounds of conscience.
So it comes back to the need for good law, to protect all concerned while allowing for adults of sound mind to make choices.
People are suffering cruelly at present, and the law lacks the courage to help them.
I'm looking forward to casting my vote to make it work better.