Nick Herbert: Why I will not support assisted dying law

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert

Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert

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The subject of assisted dying is once again in the news.

The former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, is promoting a new Bill that would allow terminally ill adults, with less than six months to live, to end their lives with the assistance of a doctor.

I remain strongly opposed to any such liberalisation in the law because I believe that it is a step towards an amoral society where we believe we can weigh the value of a human life against practical reasons to end it.

Most of the current arguments for this change are made from utilitarian principles - that the intolerable suffering of an individual, or the dramatic reduction in their quality of life, is enough to make society relax its well-founded prohibition on ending, or helping to end, another person’s life.

I was particularly disturbed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey’s sudden conversion to the cause of assisted dying. He cited the example of Tony Nicklinson, who became a very visible proponent of assisted suicide, as one of the principle reasons for his change of heart.

All of us were moved by this case, but we cannot allow a compassionate reaction to a few cases, however terrible, to blind us to the effect of changing the law. And since this case would not have qualified under Lord Falconer’s Bill anyway, it suggests that the intention of many is to liberalise the law further.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury strongly opposes the Bill, warning that it will lead to vulnerable people being coerced into giving up their lives.

I was horrified to learn that in Oregon, which legalised ‘assisted dying’ in 1997, half of the people making use of the law cited feeling they were a burden on family, friends and caregivers as the reason.

Assisted suicide involving doctors would breach their Hippocratic Oath. It is significant that the BMA, too, opposes it, believing that ongoing improvements in palliative care allow patients to die with dignity.

I am a Patron of the wonderful St Barnabas Hospice, and I know how important care for the terminally ill is. But that is very different to allowing euthanasia.

There are many vulnerable people who feel unloved and unwanted, and who need our help. I don’t believe they should be assisted to die: they should be assisted to live.