IAIN WRIGHT: Assisted Dying Bill is a massive moral issue

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Parliament returns to business next week and the House of Commons will vote on one of the most controversial pieces of potential legislation, the Assisted Dying Bill.

Over the course of the summer I have had hundreds of emails, letters and postcards about this important issue.

At a rough guess, I would say that about 80 per cent of people from Hartlepool who have contacted me about this matter are in favour of the principle of assisted dying.

That seems to be on a par with opinion polls nationally about the issue.

On a matter such as this, rather like the issue of abortion, the moral consequences of a vote in the House of Commons need to be examined extremely closely.

This is not something which I can do flippantly.

Under the terms of the Bill, if it was to be passed into law by Parliament, it would be legal to allow doctors to prescribe an injection to end the life of a terminally-ill patient judged to have six months or less to live and who has requested the right to end his or her life.

The Bill would make it law that, before any injection could be administered, a patient would have to be assessed to ensure that they had formed a “clear and settled intention” to end their life.

The prescription would be subject to the approval of two doctors and a High Court judge.

I would reiterate that this is not an issue upon which I will be voting lightly or flippantly.

I have seen reports on TV and in newspapers, as I am sure you have, of people who suffer from “locked-in syndrome”, whose quality of life is poor if not non-existent, and who wish to end their own suffering without ensuring that their loved ones are prosecuted for assisting in their dying.

You will also have seen reports of terminally-ill people travelling to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to voluntarily end their own lives.

On average, one British person travels to Switzerland for this purpose every fortnight.

The moral question for me is this: is it right and just for a person to decide to end his or her own life, and should the law of this country allow this to happen?

Life is precious. It should not be disregarded or somehow downgraded in any way.

I believe that everybody should have a dignified death.

Terminally-ill people should have proper end-of-life care and decide where we die (most people would choose to die at home), who is present, such as family and friends, and what treatment options should be, such as whether resuscitation should not be provided in certain circumstances.

Surely to provide dignity, respect and comfort for the individual and their family, the time and circumstance of their own passing should be a choice for them?

However, the other pressing moral question for me is this: are the safeguards the Bill provides sufficiently strong to ensure that every case is assessed properly and nobody is assisted to die who wasn’t mentally capable and able to make the decision for themselves.

I am particularly concerned of cases where family members or friends may stand to gain financially if an individual dies.

Does this Bill do enough to ensure that this circumstance is assessed and scrutinised to ensure the principle that people, perhaps who are ageing and ill but not terminally so, are persuaded to end their lives by people with gains or vested interests is stopped?

This is a massive moral issue for me and I have been given it much thought.

Over the next few days, prior to the debate and vote in the House of Commons, I will be examining my conscience closely, looking at the issues and repercussions before I decide how to vote.