Minister pledges time to debate assisted suicide

Justice minister Maria Eagle says she will attempt to secure parliamentary time for a debate on the assisted suicide law.

Her announcement came at the end of yesterday’s 90 minute Westminster Hall debate called by pro-euthanasia MP Evan Harris.

Dr Harris argued that individuals should be given autonomy to decide when to end their lives.

But Labour MP Brian Iddon, chairman of the Care Not Killing alliance, pointed out the view of the General Medical Council (GMC) that allowing assisted suicide “would have profound consequences for the role and responsibilities of doctors and their relationships with patients”.

  • Stories of sufferers who are glad they didn’t end it all
  • Dr Iddon added: “I do not want physician-assisted suicide to become a treatment option. I remind hon. Members what Hippocrates said in 400 BC: ‘I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel’.

    “How a society treats its dying patients is a litmus test for that society.”

    Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh read out an email sent by one of his constituents in Southport, Dr. Sue Garner-Jones:

    “I am writing to ask that you please say something about the hysteria surrounding the ‘bravery’ of the late Daniel James and his family.

    “I am seriously concerned that this might have a severely detrimental effect on anyone who lives with disability or cares for someone in this situation, especially as Mr and Mrs James are referring to his life as a tetraplegic as ‘second class’… I am a tetraplegic, as you may know, and have been for 30 years since a car accident paralysed me at 19…

    “Many times I have felt despair, as most of us do, so of course I respect and understand this man’s decision and am not judging him: I have neither the wish nor right to do so.

    “However, to call this action ‘brave’, ‘courageous’ and ‘selfless’ implies that those of us who battle on are ‘cowardly’ and ‘selfish’, which is unfair and untrue…

    “Please speak out as there should be one voice for those of us who turned a ‘tragedy’ into almost a ‘triumph’ and despite the temptation to give up went on. Society must not return to thinking of the disabled as literally ‘invalid’.”

    Dr Garner-Jones was referring to Daniel James, a promising rugby player, who was paralysed from the chest down when a scrum collapsed during training with Nuneaton Rugby Club in March 2007.

    Following the accident, Daniel attempted suicide several times, and this September Daniel’s parents travelled with him to Switzerland where he ended his life at the controversial Dignitas clinic.

    “A different life”

    The Times recently reported the story of Matt Hampson, a former rugby player who was paralysed from the neck down during training and now requires a ventilator to breathe.

    With the help of carers and a custom-built house, he has been able to set up a website, is writing an autobiography and is the patron of a charity for disabled children called Special Effects.

    He says: “I don’t live a bad life, I live a different life. I use my brain more than my brawn now. It has helped me become a more rounded person. I think about things more.

    “I’ve had to grow up quite a bit and do things that most 23-year-olds don’t do.”

    “I’m grateful I wasn’t allowed to end it all!”

    Alison Davis is National Co-ordinator of No Less Human.

    She was born with severe spina bifida, and is dependent on a wheelchair. She is often in extreme pain for hours at a time. She says that for many years she wanted to “end it all”.

    “If euthanasia had been legal, I would certainly have requested it and I wouldn’t be here now,” she says.

    But after several serious suicide attempts, blocked by the intervention of Alison’s friends, she began to change her mind.

    Alison met the disabled children she had been sponsoring through a charity. The experience led her to think, for the first time in over ten years, “I think I want to live”.

    She says: “I’ll always be grateful to the friends who saved my life (though I wasn’t at the time). And I’m especially thankful there was no possibility of persuading my doctors to legally help me die.”

    She believes that disabled people “deserve the same kind of help routinely given to those who do not have a physical condition but who feel suicidal”.

    “You just don’t know what will happen”

    In his book Against Physician Assisted Suicide, palliative care specialist Dr David Jeffrey tells the story of a former army instructor who was being treated for terminal cancer and was determined to commit suicide.

    After a discussion with the doctor, it emerged that he was missing the Army, and was subsequently taken to watch a passing-out parade of young recruits, where a party had been arranged in his honour.

    “His life was transformed,” Dr Jeffrey said. “He had a purpose and his demeanour completely changed. He died two weeks later, comfortably. People’s lives always have that potential. Even in the midst of suffering there can be change.

    “You just don’t know what will happen.”

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