On Friday, the Commons decisively rejected the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill. It was “A Bill to enable competent adults who are terminally ill to choose to be provided with medically supervised assistance to end their own life; and for connected purposes.”
The Bill attracted huge interest among MPs and voters, with over 85 MPs applying to speak. These matters of conscience, controversy and high emotion are difficult and important moments in the work of our Parliament.
Many constituents wrote to me on both sides of the argument, including those who had seen their relatives suffer and die, as I have myself. I committed to listen carefully to debate before finally deciding my vote.
I approached the debate with two conflicting sets of principles in mind. First was the automatic respect for the sanctity of life which follows from the Christian faith and our historic traditions. Second was the reality of intolerable suffering and people’s fear of it and the right of individuals to determine their own destiny. Neither is an absolute: faith alone is not a good justification for law-making and strict libertarian principle rarely survives contact with the real world.
Powerful speeches were made on both sides of the argument. It became apparent that some cases, particularly those raised by Sir Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, would not be covered by the Bill: campaigners clearly intended its provisions to be considerably extended. Practical factors emerged including the reality of people’s passing, the categoric change in attitude to death and suicide the Bill would inaugurate and the likely further development of law.
Having heard the arguments, I became more convinced that my instinct to reject the Bill was correct. I was most convinced by the obvious desire of campaigners to carry the principle to much broader application and the radical departure from the principle of sanctity of life which has sustained our civilisation. Some basic values should not be rejected: the risks for all society are too great.
At the vote, the ayes were 118 and the noes 330. It was an overwhelming result. Many problems remain to be solved: progress should now be made in a framework which accepts the traditional sanctity of life and seeks always to minimise suffering.