There cannot, of course, be any response which satisfies the deeply and strongly held convictions of people on both sides of this contentious debate. Whilst having deep sympathy with the desire to end intolerable pain and suffering; and to respect the wish of adults to take crucial decisions about their own lives, I remain worried about the safeguards for preventing abuse.
My instinctive position has been towards leaving matters as they stand, with the judicial system determining whether or not individuals who have taken steps to assist others in ending their lives should face prosecution.
And yet…. the Bill brought forward by Rob Marris does seem very well balanced.
As he says:
The Bill has a clear process, with multiple safeguards. It covers:
1. A patient who is “terminally ill”; i.e. life expectancy of less than 6 months. (Hence those with disabilities, however serious, are not covered unless they also have a terminal illness.)
2. The patient must be aged 18 or over.
3. The patient must have been ordinarily resident in England or Wales for at least one year.
4. The patient must be of sound mind. (Hence dementia patients for example are not covered)
5. The patient voluntarily (i.e. not coerced) signs a declaration that they wish to end their own life.
6. The patient’s own doctor counter-signs the declaration that the patient is terminally ill and of sound mind and acting voluntarily.
7. An independent specialist doctor counter-signs the declaration that the patient is terminally ill and of sound mind and acting voluntarily.
8. If a doctor has a conscientious objection to any of this, then he or she does not have to participate in any way.
9. Upon the application of the patient, a High Court judge agrees that the patient is terminally ill and of sound mind and acting voluntarily.
10. After the court order, there is a 14 day cooling off period.
11. After that cooling off period, the doctor takes the medicine to the patient, and waits there.
12. The patient must choose: to take the medicine themselves, or to change their mind and not take it.
13. NOTE: the medicine is self-administered by the patient, and by no-one else – not by any third party (e.g. not the doctor, not the spouse).
14. If the patient decides not to take the medicine, the doctor leaves and takes the medicine away – i.e. the medicine is not left with the patient.
15. The Chief Medical Officers must monitor the operation of the Act and submit an annual report which must be laid before Parliament/the Welsh Assembly.
16. The Bill does not cover Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Of course, prescribing that that the patient acts voluntarily and without coercion remains the nub of the matter- it is easy to state, less easy to ensure in practice. However, the number of safeguards built in to the procedure should act as a robust check against abuse, and ultimately, it comes down to a choice between two unpalatable risks: the risk of coercion on the one hand, and that of denying adults in sound mind the choice to make this most fundamental decision of all in the face of a terminal illness and imminent death.
I have not yet made a final decision and am continuing to study the details of the Bill and to consider the views of constituents but at this stage I am minded to support it.
Thank you again for your views