End of life care and the law concerning assisted dying are inevitably complex and emotive issues. I have read a great many letters and emails from people across my constituency. They offer differing and strongly held views and arguments, and sometimes include heartbreaking personal stories. I have also carefully considered the views of various groups such as Dignity in Dying, the Royal College of GPs and Scope.
I therefore welcome the opportunity for Parliament to debate this issue and to consider the different views that people hold. As you know, this Assisted Dying Bill would enable adults who are terminally ill to be provided, at their request, with medically supervised assistance to end their own lives.
Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the debate in September. I was recently diagnosed with cancer and the debate takes place too soon after another of my chemotherapy sessions.
Nevertheless I would like to make it clear that, if I were able to attend, I would not be able to support this Assisted Dying Bill. I am not convinced it provides adequate legal safeguards or sufficiently considers the psychological implications for people who are already in vulnerable circumstances.
For example, I have concerns over the reliability of a prognosis that someone can be ‘reasonably expected to die within six months’, given that illnesses can affect people differently. The difficulty for doctors in estimating death in the medium term is something the Royal College of General Practitioners acknowledges. I’m also aware that mental capacity can be very variable during a terminal illness, and a period of two weeks (reducing to six days in some cases) for a patient to change their decision may not be a reliable safeguard. And I’m concerned that legalising assisted dying will alter the ethos within which medical care is provided and change, if not damage, the doctor-patient relationship.
I also believe that much more needs to be done to improve palliative care and mental health treatment for those with terminal illnesses, so that no one should ever feel that they are suffering intolerably; to offer better support to carers; and to provide earlier and faster diagnosis of terminal conditions.
It is possible that, as I continue to weigh up evidence and arguments, I may be reassured on the concerns and reservations I have. I therefore cannot say I won’t change my mind on this complex and difficult issue in the future. But I am not at that point yet.
I will continue to reflect on the points that the hundreds of constituents who have contacted me have raised as the Bill progresses through Parliament.