Brighton and Hove MPs share their views on Assisted Dying Bill

Posted On 15 Sep 2015 at 4:34 pm

All three Brighton and Hove MPs voted after the debate on the Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Commons.

And all three have set out their views even though they were not called to speak during the debate on Friday (11 September).

But former Brighton and Hove City Council member Maria Caulfield – now the Conservative MP for Lewes – drew on her experience as a nurse to contribute to the debate.

And her fellow Tory, Tim Loughton, who represents East Worthing and Shoreham, spoke about his mother’s death and how that had informed his opinion on the subject.

The Spearhead

Peter Kyle, the Labour MP for Hove, and Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, voted in favour of the Assisted Dying Bill.

Simon Kirby, the Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown, like Maria Caulfield and Tim Loughton, voted against assisted dying.

As is common with such sensitive subjects, the vote was a free vote, with the political parties leaving it to individual MPs’ consciences to decide how to vote. Most votes are along party lines.

Impassioned

Afterwards Peter Kyle wrote about the debate on his Facebook page. He said: “I’ve just left the Commons chamber after four hours of the most emotionally impassioned, complex and respectful debating since I became your MP and I’d like to tell you about it and my own views on the subject.

Peter Kyle

Peter Kyle

“When this bill was first introduced into the Lords 18 months ago I was opposed to the idea of allowing people with terminal illness to end their lives with medical assistance. I couldn’t see how it would work in practice and vulnerable people would be protected.

“One of the good things that comes out of moments like this is it gives us an opportunity to look afresh at long-held beliefs.

“One of my favourite quotes comes from Walt Whitman and serves me well at times like this: ‘Re-examine all that you have been told and dismiss that which insults your soul.’ I do question my own as well as other people’s views!

“There’s a lot of detail in this bill but in all of my thinking on it there are two fundamental things I keep coming back to.

“Firstly, the overwhelming trend in social policy in my lifetime has been to give more control to people.

“The choices affecting our long-term health and wellbeing are now predominantly in our hands. Yet when someone is diagnosed with terminal illness, more and more control returns to the state the closer you move towards the moment of death.

Profound

“In the most profound moment in everyone’s life, the moment of death, we have no control at all. For those in the knowledge of their imminent death, I think this is wrong.

“Secondly, to me this has become an issue of social justice. In the 20 years since this was last debated by the Commons our world has been transformed by the rise in budget travel and access to assisted dying in other countries.

“This means that those with money can travel to a clinic in Switzerland but those without cannot. As someone who has come into politics to tackle inequality in all its forms I think this is unfair.

“The system at present produces some terrible unintended consequences. For example, people travelling to Switzerland are forced to leave before their illness debilitates them too much which is usually sooner than they’d like.

“Then there are people helping loved ones to end their lives and doing it without medical expertise which has a high chance of being bodged and even worse the patient dies knowing that the people they love most could be charged with assisting suicide.

“Even where partners and relatives have been cleared of criminal charges they have suffered months of being suspects and their homes turned into crime scenes.

“To qualify for assisted dying two doctors and a high court judge would have to certify that you are of sound mind, not being coerced and have less than six months of life remaining.

“Disability quite rightly does not qualify as a terminal illness and neither does old age. This satisfied my previous concerns about protecting those in need and ensuring that people don’t choose early death for fear of being a burden.

Tears

“Today’s debate was a free vote. This means that political parties did not instruct their MPs how to vote.

“I did not have to attend the Commons, vote or participate in the debate. But you didn’t make me your MP to duck the tough issues. I’ve not done that and I won’t start now.

“So I thought very carefully and deeply about this issue and voted the way my heart told me, which was for the bill.

“In my short time in the Commons I’ve not seen anything like this. A couple of times when MPs from both sides spoke I could feel emotion rising in me almost bringing me to tears.

“Crispin Blunt, a Tory, spoke in favour of the bill very beautifully and was several times heckled from his own colleagues which must have been very difficult.

“An SNP MP who had been a cancer surgeon spoke against the Bill, but a Labour MP who used to run a hospice spoke in favour.

“Another MP, Madeline Moon, sobbed as she described the final weeks of her husband’s life.

“I know that there are many reasons to criticise the quality of debate in the Commons and the behaviour of individual MPs in there but today I think you were served very well and I was very proud to sit among them.

Important

“If you want to make a speech in a Commons debate it’s the ‘done thing’ to write a note to the Speaker a few days beforehand. This helps them plan the debate and decide on things like time limits for speeches.

“More than 70 people signalled their intention to speak today and I was one of them. I desperately wanted to put these points across.

“Kier Starmer is a new MP like me and he was the former director of public prosecutions. I was determined to have his expertise heard. He would make a much more important contribution than I would on this topic.

“So I told the deputy speaker that I would withdraw from the debate if it gave him a better chance of being called to speak.

“I’m pleased he was called and that he spoke incredibly well as to the legal uncertainties that face people and their loved ones at the end of their lives.

“I voted in favour of the bill today but it was defeated with a majority over 200 so it will not now become law.

“I’ve had over 500 letters on this subject and I’ve responded to every one so I know how strongly people feel about this subject.

“I cannot see this legislation returning to the Commons for a long time but I am very keen to hear what you think so please let me know.”

Sensitive

Many people also wrote to Simon Kirby and he responded before the debate by posting a response on his website.

Simon Kirby

Simon Kirby

He said: “I am instinctively against assisted dying. However, I understand that this is a very sensitive and emotive subject.

“I will be sure to carefully read any bill that comes before the House of Commons. I will also carefully consider the views of all constituents who contact me and will listen to the debate on this issue.

“Please be assured that however I vote on this issue it will not be a decision that will be made lightly but will be one that will be given great thought.”

Safeguards

Caroline Lucas voted in favour of the Assisted Dying Bill. Afterwards she said: “The huge amounts of emails and letters I have received on this bill shows just how important this issue is for people in my constituency.

“I voted to support the bill, hoping to strengthen the safeguards within in it as it passed through Parliament.

Caroline Lucas

Caroline Lucas

“For me it’s crucial that, alongside working to give people dignity in death, we do all we can to ensure that people can live dignified lives.

“That means investing in round-the-clock palliative care and giving full support to people with disabilities.

“This bill would have given some of those suffering extreme pain the freedom to decide when and where they can die.

“It allowed them to say goodbye to loved ones properly and exercise some control over how they die and when.

“Ultimately, I would want that freedom to decide how and when to die myself. How can I deny that to others?”

Moving

Former Brighton councillor Maria Caulfield said afterwards: “Today’s debate was very powerful, with some incredibly moving contributions from a number of MPs from all political parties.

“I fully accept that suicide, assisting or encouraging suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia are all subjects on which it is entirely possible for people to hold widely different but defensible opinions.”

The Lewes MP spoke of her experiences as an NHS nurse, particularly as a cancer nurse, which helped inform her thinking on this issue and led her to oppose the bill.

She said: “What this debate highlighted very clearly is the importance of good palliative care and how precious our hospices are. This is something I will certainly be taking forward.”

In the debate she said: “I come to this debate as a nurse with more than 20 years’ experience in the NHS, most of which time was spent working in cancer care.

“I have looked after many patients with metastatic disease and many who needed end-of-life care.

“As a result, it has been my humble privilege to share the last few days, hours and minutes of many people’s lives and, on numerous occasions, I have held the hand of someone as they have breathed their last.

“Having experienced dying at first hand, I can say that death can be one of the most rewarding parts of life.

Distressing

“It does not have to be as painful or distressing as the supporters of the bill have described.

“The reason behind my positive experience of death is the availability of good palliative care, which tackles symptoms such as pain and enables people to have a good quality of life right up to the end.

Maria Caulfield

Maria Caulfield

“In the field of cancer care, we are fortunate to have access to some of the best palliative care in the world.

“However, many patients living with other illnesses are not so fortunate. Patients with cardiac failure, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s – to name but a few – often have little or no access to palliative medicine but, instead of tackling the lack of palliative care, the bill promotes assisted dying as a solution.

“Death today has become medicalised and it is seen as a failure or as something to be feared instead of as a normal part of life.

“The reality is that a natural death can be a moving and peaceful experience for all involved.

Concerns

“Therefore, not only do I disagree with the rationale behind this bill but I have severe concerns about the lack of safeguards it contains.

“The first relates to its requirement to give someone a diagnosis of less than six months to live. It is almost impossible accurately to predict a person’s prognosis in months.

“In my experience, that is not something a consultant would readily do as someone’s prognosis can vary greatly according to their disease, general health and response to treatment.

“This part of the bill gives the false impression that having a terminal illness means life is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“If assisted dying becomes law, it will remove the incentive for science and medicine to find treatments for illnesses.

“Metastatic prostate cancer was a terminal illness 10 years ago but is now a chronic disease whereby men, although not curable, are treatable and often die of other causes long before their prostate cancer ever becomes a problem.

“The same is true of metastatic breast cancer, with many women now able to live long and healthy lives even though they cannot be cured.

“HIV used to be a death sentence but thanks to advances in medicine it is now a chronic illness that people live with rather than die of.

Struggle

“Would these treatments have been discovered if assisted dying had been legalised 10 or 20 years ago?

“My third concern is that with so many doctors against legalising assisted dying – the Royal College of Surgeons, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and the Association for Palliative Medicine are almost unanimous in their opposition – who will be left to assess the patients who wish to discuss assisted dying?

“The bill requires both the attending doctor and the independent doctor to advise a patient on diagnosis, prognosis and treatment alternatives to assisted dying before giving consent.

“Most general doctors, however, would struggle to provide such specialist information. Are we certain that if we change the law, this will be carried out properly?

“My final concern relates to the experience of places where assisted dying is already law.

“If the death rate in Oregon, where assisted dying is legal, were transposed to this country, 1,500 deaths a year would occur here from assisted dying.

“In Oregon, patients with lung cancer and prostate cancer are already being denied treatment on their state health insurance plan and are instead being offered assisted dying, as we have heard today.

“Is that what we want for patients in this country? Do we want them to be denied cancer treatment but offered assisted dying as an alternative?

“Before we change the law to legalise assisted dying, we need to see serious evidence to prove, first, that the current law is not fit for purpose and, secondly, that what is being proposed would be better.

“On neither account has any convincing evidence been presented. Our current law is not perfect, but it does what it is designed to do: it holds penalties in reserve to deter malicious assistance while allowing discretion not to prosecute where appropriate.

“What is needed is not a change in the law but better access to palliative care for all.”

Pressures

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton said: “Debating issues such as this is one of the most challenging things we have to do as MPs.

“We are expected to exercise the judgment of Solomon on behalf of our constituents. Indeed, many speakers on both sides have made speeches worthy of Solomon today.

“I will come to the point quickly. I oppose the bill because I have fears about the safeguards against the pressures from family members or friends with their own agendas and different priorities.

“There are difficulties over the definition of mental competency. Are we placing too great a responsibility on our doctors to play God? That would change the whole dynamic of that doctor-patient relationship.

“My prime concern, and why I will vote against the bill, is that we risk engendering guilt among elderly people and those with serious disabilities about being a burden on their families, their carers or society.

“Bringing a Dignitas-style solution to their doorstep implies that that is what is expected of them and the most unselfish course of action to take.

“As our population lives longer, that pressure will become greater.

“Rather than re-rehearsing the arguments, I want to close on a very personal story.

Brilliant

“My mother was diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2013. At the beginning of January 2014 she reacted badly to her chemotherapy and became very poorly.

Tim Loughton

Tim Loughton

“She was taken to hospital and after a few days doctors decided that there was little they could do for her and she was transferred to the new St Wilfrid’s hospice in Eastbourne.

“Staff there were brilliant and we cannot thank them enough. As a patron of St Barnabas House hospice in Worthing, I know the fantastic work that hospices do.

“Doctors told us that our mother would be unlikely to make the weekend. It was a shock that it had happened so quickly when she apparently had been receiving good treatment.

“My brother, my sister and I mounted a vigil. She was in great pain and discomfort but my mother kept telling us that she really did not want to be a burden and that if she had known that things would turn out like this, she would have taken herself off to Dignitas to make sure she was not a burden.

“I do not know whether she would have gone through with that but she was convinced that she did not want to be a burden. We will never know what she might actually have done.

“The weekend came and, incredibly, my mother was still there. Fortified by a range of exotic fruits and fruit juices to quench her thirst, she actually started to improve.

“A few weeks later she was still there. She had rallied sufficiently that she was deemed to be too fit to stay in the hospice and so was evicted.

Triumph

“It was a great triumph for her. People are not normally evicted from hospices.

“We found her the most wonderful nursing home in Eastbourne, the Queen Alexandra Cottage home.

“Far from being a burden, she played an active role in helping the staff of the nursing home. She was looked after brilliantly. Her quality of life was excellent.

“My brother, sister and I spent much quality time with her and enjoyed trips out to favourite family places and at family get-togethers she was surrounded by her grandchildren.

“Sadly, my mother died last October but eight months after leaving the hospice.

“She died peacefully and comfortably and with her family around her, a few days short of her 77th birthday.

Happiest

“Those bonus eight months were some of the happiest times we enjoyed with my mother, despite her illness and the limitations it placed on her.

“It was quality time that allowed her and us to prepare for the inevitable but in a positive and organised way. My mother was very organised.

“For my part, those eight months were just a small compensation for the missed opportunities and family neglect that the job of being an MP inevitably entails.

“If things had gone differently and my mother had chosen another route, completely oblivious of what was actually to happen, and if that alternative option had been readily available and state-approved, she and we would have missed out on a lot.

“We were lucky to have that valuable extra time and she valued it greatly.

“That is just one example and I know that many other people’s experiences will lead them to other conclusions but it is a major personal reason why I think that the risks and the potential loss of human experience and sensitivity outweigh the potential advantages that some people might enjoy from a change in the law and that is why I shall be voting against the bill.”

  1. Adrian Wilson Reply

    Will you join with us and demand that the government hold a referendum to allow the British people to make a decision about ASSISTED SUICIDE and not the politicians. Please sign and share the following petition. Thank you.https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/106652

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