The House of Commons Debate

Yesterday’s debate proved moving and more useful than many a Ten Minute Rule Motion. Speeches by politicians on both sides of the House reflected, rather than contradicted, the consistent body of public opinion. Furthermore, they endorsed the skilful guidance by the Director of Public Prosecutions (see the preceding post).

Thy agreed without a vote to endorse DPP Keir Starmer’s “realistic and compassionate” guidelines, produced two years ago following right-to-die campaigner Debbie Purdy’s legal battle for assistance in suicide.

Labour’s Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, supported legalising assisted suicide after his cancer-stricken, 87-year-old father gassed himself last July. Fighting back tears, Mr Blomfield said his father did not want to end his life bed-ridden and relying on 24-hour care like many of his friends. The MP added: “He wasn’t in pain but he couldn’t face the indignity of that lingering, degrading death.” A former RAF pilot, he had “lived life to the full right to the end,” but had taken a conscious decision to take his own life last July.

There was silence in the Chamber as the Labour MP for Sheffield Central called for a change in the law on assisted suicide which he said would have at least allowed his father to say goodbye.

He was one of a series of MPs who spoke from personal experience as the Commons, after an emotional five-hour debate, overwhelmingly backed legal guidelines limiting the chances of loved-ones being prosecuted for assisting someone set on taking their own life.

Several MPs read letters from constituents who had personal experience of the terminal illness of a loved-one. Paul Flynn, a Labour MP, read the account of an elderly man who sat with his wife as she starved herself to death for three weeks, overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness at not being able to help her as she asked. “Every day of her life she prayed for other people but when she prayed ‘please God help me die’ there was no-one to hear her.” He wrote how he, “held her close on the days when I could no longer understand her mumbled words, I could only reply hoping she would hear.” The heartbreaking account continued, “When I said, ‘I love you darling, I understand,’ I knew she could hear my words when a tear dropped in the corner of her eye. I watched her beautiful face become a skeleton and held her when her life finally ended. . . . For the rest of my life I will remember her poor wrecked body and once so beautiful face become a hallow mask.”

Concluding the debate, proposer Richard Ottaway MP said, “What I have endeavoured to do is build a consensus around a set of guidelines which I think command substantial support. They have compassion at their heart, and I think that if the motion is carried, it will be a small step for Parliament but a big step for a modern society.”

Main motion, as amended, put and agreed to. It was resolved:
That this House welcomes the Director of Public Prosecution’s Policy to Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide, published in February 2010, and encourages further development of specialist palliative care and hospice provision.

Full report: Telegraph (Online)

Read the Debates in full from the official Hansard site:
Part One   Part Two

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