I am opposed to changing the law to legalise Assisted Suicide. Because I realise that many people do not agree with me, I am posting the speech I made last year in a debate on the subject. I don't expect everyone to support my view, but a great majority of MPs did. If the debate were to come before the House of Commons again next year (which it might) I would make the same speech again - though expanding on several points if the Speaker allowed me more time.
Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this very important debate. It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael). We do not always agree, but I agreed with every word that he said on this occasion. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) on the tone that he adopted: I thought it just right for the introduction of such an important debate.
I should declare an interest. I am a member of the board of Living and Dying Well, an organisation that commissions evidence-based research into end-of-life care. I have regular conversations with Lord Carlile, who chairs it, and with Baroness Finlay, who has already been mentioned today. I too have received several letters from members of Dignity in Dying. I write back disagreeing, but I always do so with a great deal of respect, because—like other Members who have spoken—I think that opinions on both sides of the debate are motivated by compassion, and I do not think it right to be critical of those who take a different view if compassion is what motivates them.
But I am concerned about some of the media coverage that appeared before today’s debate, which seemed to suggest that we were contemplating, and perhaps moving towards, a change in the law. That is not the case. All that we are discussing today is a reaffirmation of the current position in law, which is why I am happy to support the motion.
I am probably unusual here in having had an interest in assisted suicide for as long as it has been an offence. I was 17 in 1961, and an active member of my young farmers club. As young farmers clubs do, we discussed the issues of the day in debating competitions, and I supported the decriminalisation of suicide. A key point, however, is that that simply would not have happened without the inclusion in the Suicide Act 1961 of section 2, which introduced the offence of assisting a suicide and was seen as an absolute protection allowing the offence of suicide itself to be abolished.
My view remains exactly the same today. Over the last few days I have received many representations and briefings, as have many other Members, and over the months during which I have been a member of Living and Dying Well, we have commissioned several research papers. There so much information that it is almost impossible to engage one’s mind clearly with all of it, and because the time limit on speeches today is so tight, I shall make just one fundamental point. In 1961, I just knew that assisted suicide was wrong. I thought that it was extremely dangerous, and I still think so. If the DPP’s guidance were to become statutory we would, in effect, be legalising assisted suicide, and I believe that that would have a very negative impact on the frail elderly, the terminally ill, the incapacitated and the seriously depressed.
I have never believed that the malicious assister is the biggest problem, although that is an issue that concerns many. What has always concerned me is the likelihood that the normalisation of assisted suicide would lead to uncertainty about their own worth among the groups whom I have listed. It would cause them to ask questions about their own value. They would see themselves as becoming a burden on society. When we talk to elderly people who are nearing the end of their lives, we often find that they are concerned about not being able to leave assets to their grandchildren, and I believe that that concern would be expanded greatly if assisted suicide were legalised and normalised. My view is that it was and is wrong, and that only in very special circumstances should it not be prosecuted.
Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): I think that there is a clear distinction between allowing discretion for a prosecution that says “It is wrong to assist someone in committing suicide,” and potentially widening the number of people who may be put under pressure by codifying assisted suicide in any form in law.
Glyn Davies: I firmly believe that assisting in suicide is wrong and should be a criminal offence, but, as with all criminal offences, the DPP or the prosecution service must always have the discretion to apply a degree of common sense and make judgments about what motivated the person concerned to commit that criminal offence. Since the guidelines were issued two years ago, the DPP has made a sensible judgment in every case. Where he has been satisfied that the crime was motivated by compassion, no prosecution has taken place. The system is working well. It is delivering exactly what we want in law; it supports what this Parliament has judged we should have in law. If we were to put things on a statutory basis, we would damage the current law, which is working so well, and it would result in pressure being put on some of the most vulnerable people in society, which would be plain wrong.
Finally, I want to say something about palliative care. For decades, all Governments have spent a huge amount of money on extending life and curing disease. We have not spent nearly enough time ensuring that that extended life is a life of quality.