“We should not set a position on when is the right time to kill someone who is sick”: British MPs debate assisted suicide

By SPUC—the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

A majority of the MPs who spoke in a debate on assisted suicide in Parliament last week, called for protecting the vulnerable against suicide, but SPUC’s Alithea Williams warns that the fight is far from over.

Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, moved [introduced] the motion “That this House has considered the law on assisted dying.” The debate took place in Westminster Hall, which means the motion was neutrally worded and there was no vote. However, such debates are usually responded to by a Government minister, and provide an important opportunity to further a position.

The debate was unusually well attended, and a number of new MPs spoke. Six MPs spoke in favour of assisted suicide, while nine spoke against. Eight didn’t express a clear view or were undecided.

What they said

A number of pro-life MPs made powerful contributions in defence of the disabled and vulnerable. Ian Paisley, the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] MP for North Antrim, pointed out that MPs walked under a portrait of Moses every day, bearing the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”.

“We are debating at what point we shall kill,” he said. “The House debates it many times. Should we kill in the womb? Should we kill at the end of life? When should we do it? We have to take those tough, critical decisions, and sometimes the House gets it wrong. We should not get it wrong on this occasion.

“We should not set a position on when is the right time to kill someone who is sick,” Mr Paisley went on. “We should be asking the positive, strong question: how much palliative care and support can we give people at the greatest point of need? What question does the House face? It should be about what we do to give hope, not what we do to continue with the heartache. We parliamentarians should be prepared to offer hope to people, not to say, as others have said, “You’re now a burden. It’s time to shuffle off this mortal coil.” We should be giving hope to people.”

Sir John Hayes also spoke eloquently about how life, even in the midst of great suffering, is precious. 

“Although life, as I have described it, is momentary, each moment is precious. The life of profoundly disabled people is precious, and the life of those weak, wizened, sick and infirm people is precious,” he said. “Every life has value and every life ultimately ends. If that is unpalatable, then so be it, because that is the contextual reality that this debate is considering.”

Referring to comments by another MP that she had seen relatives in a care home trying to“bump them off for the money,” he warned: “If there is any prospect of one vulnerable person dying as a result of this change who would not otherwise do so, it is not a chance that, as a legislator and a parliamentarian, I am prepared to take. Indeed, it is not a chance that any other Member of this House should be prepared to take. The current law may not be perfect—what law is?—but I say that we should stay where we are, for anything else could be considerably more dangerous, damaging and, in the end, frightening.”

Even MPs who were sympathetic to the idea of legalising assisted suicide expressed concerns about the possible impact on the sick and disabled. 

Daisy Cooper, the new Liberal Democrat MP for St. Albans recounted: 

“During the election campaign, I met a couple who pleaded with me not to vote for assisted dying. They told me about their disabled child, a child born disabled and with a life-limiting disease. She was predicted to live only a few years, but despite medical predictions, she has lived for many years and become a happy and joyous little girl. They told me about their fears that a permissive law on assisted dying could have been used to end her life even before she had had a real chance to start it. As a disability rights campaigner myself, I know that those living with a disability, or with experience of disability in their family, must be heard.”

“Encouraging to see new MPs taking this threat seriously”

Many of the MPs advocating for a change in law spoke of the need to have an inquiry into changing the law. Alithea Williams, SPUC’s Parliamentary research assistant, said: “We must not be fooled by this new approach by the pro-euthanasia lobby. It is clear that any inquiry would merely be a vehicle towards legislation. As Ian Paisley said, we should not be considering how to kill sick people. The minister mentioned that select committees have the power to initiate such an inquiry, and this is something we need to be on the alert for.”

She continued, “However, the fact that they are taking this line shows that they are not winning the argument, and don’t believe they would win a vote on an assisted suicide bill now. It was very encouraging to hear even new MPs taking the threat to the vulnerable seriously, and we are grateful to the MPs who spoke up so eloquently on behalf of those most at risk from any change in the law.”