Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Southwark News Column - Assisted Dying Bill

Tomorrow I'll be voting in the House of Commons in favour of the Assisted Dying Bill.  This is an emotional and particularly difficult issue to make a law on.   And it’s a very personal issue, so all of us MPs will vote according to our conscience on a "free vote" and there will be no party "whip".  I will be voting to change the law so that doctors will be allowed to prescribe a lethal drug dose to terminally ill patients in England and Wales who are deemed to have less than six months to live.

Many local people have written to me about this vote.  And shared many heartfelt concerns on both sides of the issue. One woman told me she had witnessed the unnecessary suffering of her family members in the final stages of their life and she wanted people to be allowed to die with dignity and not have to ask a loved one to risk prosecution to help them.

Everyone agrees that people should, as far as possible, be able to make choices as their life comes to an end.  Everyone agrees that no-one should have to suffer unbearable pain.  Everyone also supports the hospice movement and all those in the NHS who, whether in our hospitals or caring for people at home, do so much to care for the dying.  No-one wants to see people with disabilities or life-limiting illness feel that they are a burden and must end their life.  No-one wants to see someone suffering mental illness end their life.  But that is not what this Bill is about.

The Bill does not allow for assisted dying when the patient is not terminally ill, or euthanasia where a doctor administers a lethal medication to a patient.

This Bill is to enable competent adults, who are deemed to have less than six months to live, to choose medically supervised assistance to end their own life. A High Court judge and two independent doctors would all be required to agree that the patient had made an informed decision to die.

I've never had to watch a relative or friend suffer horribly at the end of their life.  But I know that if that were the case I'd want to support their choice even if that meant medication which, as well as alleviating their pain, brought forward the end of their life.

We've all seen the people who've gone to Dignitas in Switzerland to end their life.  But some have said they've had to go earlier than they might otherwise, for fear of getting to ill to travel.  Others have wanted to go, but could not afford to travel.  And most want to die at, or near, home rather than in a foreign clinic.

Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands now have different laws to deal with assisted dying.  This is not about forcing people who are terminally ill to end their life.  It’s about giving people a choice.  This is what I would want for my family.  This is what I would want for myself.  So this is what I will vote for on Friday.  

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