View from Westminster: A matter of life and death

Dying is a subject many of us don’t like to talk about. But it affects us all. Seeing our friends and relatives pass away is deeply emotional and usually highly traumatic, and of course we’re highly conscious that at some point we’ll make that same journey ourselves.

Everyone wants themselves or those around them to have a good and peaceful death. Sadly, even in this age of advanced palliative care and sophisticated pain control, that isn’t always possible. There are sound, credible reasons why people may want to end their own lives with dignity and at a time of their choosing.

Last week, the Commons debated and voted on assisted dying. I was privileged to take part and to listen to the arguments on both sides. Many of the contributions were intelligent, considered and moving. I know there are plenty of faults with Westminster and people are often justifiably critical of how it works, but this was a thoughtful and respectful debate.

And my own view? I’ve thought about this issue for a long time, spoken to a lot of people about it, and received many emails and letters.

And like so many of us, I have a personal interest. My father died of cancer a few years ago and though he received fantastic palliative care, it was a difficult, painful decline. Having seen dying close up, I understand the challenges that come with a degenerative terminal illness.

Until now, I’ve not really been in favour of assisted dying, as I’ve been concerned that it could be open to abuse. Any Act passed would have to be watertight to prevent unintended consequences – and I wasn’t convinced that was the case. I’m also aware that assisted dying has twice been soundly rejected in the Scottish Parliament after excellent, passionate debates, but introducing it in England would have implications for us – not least here, where we’re so close to the border.

So I listened to the debate carefully and with a genuinely open mind. And when the vote came, I decided to give the bill my support.

Why? Because a vote in favour would have meant that the legislation could have gone forward for a full examination at committee stage. It would then have been looked at in great detail, and safeguards – such as approval from the individual concerned, two doctors and a High Court judge – properly tested.

With some 80% of people saying they are in favour of assisted dying, I felt that MPs were duty bound to give the Bill the highest degree of scrutiny and to ensure all proposals were completely watertight. Then – and only then – would I and others have made a final decision at Third Reading.

In the end, the Bill was defeated by 330 votes to 118. But assisted dying remains an important issue which ultimately affects all of us, and I have no doubt that it will return to parliament before too long. When that happens, I hope that attitudes have changed, and that on this issue of conscience, MPs will agree to allow the detailed, practical and compassionate examination which it needs.