This is back in the news as Noel Conway is challenging the 1961 Suicide Act that by stopping his right to die in a dignified manner breeches his human rights. It is an extremely emotive issue for many. MPs debated it just two years ago and the eight Lib Dem Members of Parliament split three ways with three voting for the bill, three against and two sat on the fence.
Back then it was Alistair Carmichael, John Pugh and Norman Lamb who supported the bill. The latter even commenting during the debate that he had changed his mind in recent years. The paragraph that sticks out is below:
I have changed my mind on this issue. I used to oppose change, but I am now very clear in my mind that reform is necessary. We are all shaped by the conversations we have and by our own personal experiences, sometimes within our own families. Talking to people who are terminally ill has forced me to think about the principles at stake and led me to change my mind. I came to this view through one man in particular, Douglas Harding, who, for six years, has lived with terminal cancer, and is now very close to the end. When I hear him argue the case to me about his right to decide when to end his life as he faces the closing stages of a terminal illness, I find it impossible to reject that right. When I ask myself what I would want in those circumstances whether I would want that right, I am very clear in my mind that I would. I do not know whether I would exercise it, but I would absolutely want it for myself. How can I then deny it to others?
It is one of those rare occasions when I am on the opposite side of the aisle to Nick Clegg who voted against the bill. At Conference in 2014 he found that he was in the minority within the party during a Q&A session. A show of hands showed that the majority of Lib Dem members in that room believed that a change in the law was necessary. “I am personally quite sceptical about the ability to capture what is a very, very delicate decision about when you endorse, under the law, the taking of someone’s life” said the then Deputy Minister at the time.
For me though I don’t see it as a tough decision and I think Norman Lamb hit the nail on the head. It is all about rights and if someone is in a position where they want to end their own life but need help, they should have that opportunity. This isn’t about state sanctioned murder but about not criminalising doctors or loved ones for bringing an end to pain.
I have it on record with my mum and my partner that should I ever be in a position where I have zero quality of life, I do not want to live. This is of course a very narrow interpretation that only takes into account two scenarios where I wouldn’t be able to clearly communicate my wishes, firstly locked in syndrome, which would be hell on Earth in my opinion and the other is where I lose so many of my faculties that I do not know who I am or who anyone is around me. For me that isn’t life but existing and again for me, that isn’t life.
This is of course just one persons opinion – mine – but shouldn’t I be able to control whether or not I live or die in such a scenario? If I want the freedom to end my life if I didn’t think it was worth living then how could I ever have the position where I don’t think another person has that same right?
The issue of coercion is a real one and I can fully see that is a potential problem to making this law. If assisted dying/suicide was decriminalised then scrupulous people could get vulnerable people to agree to end their life for a variety of reasons from freeing them of a burden to financial gain. This is where the whole issue hits the rocks as many will argue that if it could be used by people against the wishes of the person then it should be avoided at all costs. This is why safety checks should be put in place and that is plausible albeit difficult.
As liberals we should fight for individual choice in life and in this instance death. I find it hard to constitute that people couldn’t comprehend of a scenario where they see themselves diagnosed with a terminal illness, which is only only to get worse, more painful for them and more painful for their loved ones watching them in pain and slipping away and not want to end the pain for all. For you see dying slowly and painfully whilst watching your loved ones go through this with you must be nearly as bad (or even more so) than going through it yourself.
I’ve always believed in individual freedom and I think assisted dying/suicide comes under that umbrella. I would love the Liberal Democrats to look into this once more. In 2004 at Spring Conference the party promised to, ‘introduce legislation that would legalise assisted dying for patients with a terminal or severe, incurable and progressive physical illness‘ but nothing happened. In 2012 a motion brought by Chris Davies MEP at Party Conference was passed which reaffirmed our support for a change in the law on assisted dying. Still nothing has happened.
This is an issue of human rights and liberalism. One I think the party should seriously take up and not just pay lip service to…
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