11 September 2015, The Tablet

'I think we should vote for life and dignity and not death'

During a well-attended debate that was impassioned, intelligent, considered and thoughtful, MPs from all parties and on both sides spoke eloquently about the implications of the proposed legislation.

Many admitted before to being unsure of how they were going to vote and some said they had changed their minds at least once in the run-up to the private members bill on Friday.

Rob Marris who brought the bill before the House of Commons, opened the debate by stating: “The law in England and Wales has not got the balance right. This Bill would provide more protection for the living and more choice for the dying."

Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, asked the Chamber: "What is intolerable suffering? The definition of intolerable suffering could easily be extended beyond those with terminal disease to people suffering from depression.”

Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP for Congleton, argued: "We are here to protect the most vulnerable in our society, not to legislate to kill them. This bill is not merely flawed, it is legally and ethically totally unacceptable."

Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, spoke in favour of the bill and read out a letter from an elderly man who had sat with his wife as she begged him to help her die.

The man wrote: “Every day of her life she said prayers for other people but when she pleaded ‘please God help take me now’ for once in that long life she prayed for herself but there was no-one to answer.”

In an often emotionally-charged debate, one MP was moved to tears recounting the story of her husband's long battle with terminal illness.

Madeleine Moon, the Labour MP for Bridgend, who was infavour of the bill, said: "[My husband] had no capacity to speak, no capacity to lift a hand to his mouth. He had no capacity to get on a plane or a train to Switzerland [to visit Dignitas]. So this bill would not have affected him the way I was affected when I received a letter saying I should vote for this bill because of what happened to my husband.

"I believe that it is Parliament's job to look at the will of the people, and consider the difficult choices in front of society .. we must be honest with people and have a full and frank debate."

One of the most powerful speeches – and one that moved at least one MP, by his own admission, to change his vote from yes to no – was made by Dr Philippa Whitford (pictured above), the SNP MP for Central Ayrshire, who told the story of a terminally-ill woman whose death led her to dedicate her career to helping cancer sufferers.

“The biggest impact on me as a junior doctor was the death of a lady that I had looked after for many months,” she told the House. “When I came onto the ward that night the nurses said,  'I think Lizzie is going' .

"She was curled up in her bed obviously quite upset, she said she was frightened, she didn’t know what to do. I said you don’t have to do anything, you just have to relax, you just have to let go.

“We had the family in. The west of Scotland male is not good on emotion or openness so I took her son in and I spoke to her again about what was happening to the point where he could tell her that he loved her, and how much he was going to miss her.

“I went for a tea and when I came back she was sitting up holding court and I thought, ‘oh no, we’ve called it wrong’.  But she was gone in an hour. And it was beautiful.”

She added: “I think we should support letting people live every day of their lives until the end and recognise that as legislators we provide the means for them to live and die with dignity and comfort.

“I think we should vote for life and dignity and not death.”


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