A doctor friend told me the other day that when he was taking a patient through her care programme plan – it’s now required for elderly and terminally ill patients – he asked her, as delicately as possible, how she wanted to die. She looked appalled. ‘But I don’t want to die,’ she said.
And that is probably the view of quite a few Brits, notwithstanding our greater openness about death. Lord Falconer’s bill on Assisted Dying, which passed its second reading in the Lords on Friday and now passes to committee stage, has at least got everyone talking about dying, though I still can’t quite get my head round his pronouncement that the bill, if passed, would mean ‘less suffering, not more deaths’. Look, the number of deaths will be precisely the same with or without his bill; the question is, will doctors be expediting the process by handing lethal medication to their patients to enable them to commit suicide.
The question hasn’t quite taken a party political dimension yet, but can we just note that Ed Miliband has intimated that Labour, if elected, would make time for the bill to be considered in the Commons. At present, without Government backing, it’ll die all by itself. We should perhaps be taking that on board: you’re more likely to get assisted suicide with a Labour government.
In the wake of the marathon debate – 10 hours – in the Lords, with peers queuing to speak, the bill as proposed looks like even more of a mess than it did on first reading. It’s opening a door merely in order for it to be pushed open further at the first opportunity. As Rabbi Julia Neuberger points out, the criterion that the patients in question should have a life expectancy in the opinion of two doctors, of no more than half a year, is nonsense.