The following speech was made in today’s debate in the House of Lords on the Assisted Dying Bill 2013-2014 by Baroness O’Cathain:
My Lords, I believe that a great strength of this House whenever we look at a Bill—we have looked at a lot of them—is that we seem to have a mental checklist of things that we should always take into consideration; an impact statement, in effect. One of the things we always take into consideration is the effect of the Bill, whatever its subject or object, on the population as a whole, particularly on the vulnerable and on those who do not really have the capacity to decide what is the right way of doing things. In my view, this proposed legislation turns that on its head. In effect, there is a grave danger that if the Bill were to be enacted, the vulnerable would be the most negatively affected. We are talking about the vulnerable as if they are the subject and object of the Bill, but we are not going through the effect on individuals.
We know this from the huge number of letters we have received and, indeed, from our own personal experience. Time and again we are moved by these letters, but the thing that shrieks at me from them is whether anybody has done anything about depression. In fact, I do not think depression has been mentioned at all in the debate so far. I have personal experience, both from my own very close personal relationship and from my best friend. Both cases were desperately difficult deaths over the long term—years and months. In both cases, when the victims, so to speak, were actually treated with anti-depressants and given a regime aimed at lifting their hopes, they became much more amenable to friendship, to discussing life and to planning for reuniting with their maker, in a way that would not have been possible if they had had this option, three or four months earlier, to say, “I want to end my life”.
Time and again I have read of the serious deep anxiety that many have of the prospect of being a burden. I am sure most of us feel that—I feel that. That is fine, up to a point, but what we have to do is instil a complete change in our attitude to the elderly in terms of realising that they can still, even at the end of their lives, teach us a lot and help us with many things which we will use in the future. What about the effects of assisted dying on those who administer the means, whatever they are, of moving these people on? We had a moving speech from the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein. So far as I could gather, his point was that is all right for us who do not have to do the deed, but what about the people who do and how long does it stay in their memory?
Polls have already been referred to and, I am sure, will be again. We have had so many polls that we are befuddled. The one result of polls of which I am certain is that people constantly change their mind—even the Guardian today has changed its mind. What really bothers me, however, is that, behind the headline figures, the polls show a shocking apathy. I think that, when people are polled, they do not think of the depth of the meaning behind the question. The ComRes poll that appeared yesterday gave the most disturbing result that 47% of supporters of the Bill would still support it even if it resulted in people being pressured into ending their lives early so as not to be a burden. Are we really sure that this is what this country believes?
Let us not forget that the World Health Assembly adopted a ground-breaking resolution on palliative care on 23 May this year. Nowhere was assisted suicide—or its euphemism, assisted dying—mentioned. Instead, the need for greater palliative care and the importance of hospices in end-of-life care were resoundingly echoed by elected health experts from around the world. Not for the first time in your Lordships’ House, I wholly endorse that hope.