Too often I have described the deliberations of the British Parliament – most legislatures, really – as an Olympic stadium for windy blatherskite. This is unfair, especially in London, for there are occasions when the honourable members rise to the occasion and deliver excellent speeches. Such was the case on Friday when 85 MPs debated the merits of assisted suicide. The outcome was a resounding defeat for the Yes campaigners; the vote was 330 votes to 118 against a bill presented by Rob Marris, a Labour MP.
However, the quality was outstanding, on both sides of the issue. The former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Keir Starmer, revealed his reasons for not prosecuting 79 of the 80 cases of assisted suicide which came before him. This was highly informative, as it could be argued that the guidelines he issued were tantamount to stealth legalisation of helping a loved one to die.
A number of MPs had accompanied parents or spouses through their last days or were doctors who had rich experience in dealing with dying patients.
I found the speech of Nadine Dorries, a former nurse, particularly interesting, as it confirmed me in my impression that opponents to the right-to-die are not all fuddy-duddies and ideologues. This colourful MP was once described as “a tropical bird in amongst all that dull, grey plumage on the Commons benches”. I particularly relished her cheek in ignoring the dull, grey plumage and participating in a reality TV show called “I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!” She was suspended from the Conservative Party for several months over that.
Anyhow, her speech concluded with a cogent warning about government involvement in assisted dying:
There are people all over the country who do not have a family member or relative as their next of kin. They do not have loved ones. For them, the next of kin is the state. It sends a shiver of fear down my spine to think that such a Bill might be legislated for and approved when so many people who are protected by the law may not have such protection in future because their next of kin is the state. When they feel that they are a burden or they feel under pressure, who will coerce them and who will feel the budgetary constraints involved in looking after them?
That sums up many of my concerns, as well.
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