Andrew Mitchell speaks in favour of assisted dying, making the point that we cannot continue to let dying people’s suffering go unanswered; it is time for dignity, for compassion, and for a choice at the end of life.
I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and to the fact that I am co-chair—with the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth)—of the all-party parliamentary group on choice at the end of life.
I speak today as a convert to the campaign for the legalisation of assisted dying. My mind has been changed over the years, principally because of the number of constituents to whom I have spoken who have faced terrible suffering at the end of life, or who have witnessed loved ones dying in painful and undignified circumstances. I want the change for my constituents, for myself and for those whom I love.
Last Friday, in the royal town of Sutton Coldfield, I met Lyn Ellis, a constituent from Wylde Green whose husband died from prostate cancer. During covid, he was told that he had three to six months to live, and he died not long afterwards. Lyn told me:
“Until you’ve been through something like this, you don’t realise how hollow the argument is that there is a palliative answer. As John died, he shrank to nothing; he couldn’t eat; he was in pain; suicidal. I felt we’d been cheated. What could be a better way to go than a glass of champagne and saying goodbye to each other?
Those last few weeks of his life were incredibly painful; he shut down, wouldn’t speak, and we’d always had such a close and loving relationship. I feel the state let me down. A good and decent country would not have put us through this.”
We in the Commons have not been asked to vote on assisted dying for almost seven years. A great deal has changed in that time: California, Colorado, New Jersey, Maine, and even the District of Columbia have legislated for choice at the end of life. In just the past five years, every state in Australia has passed laws on assisted dying; New Zealand, too, legislated on assisted dying following a referendum that showed 66% support for the proposal. Other jurisdictions have gone further than the proposals that I support, including in Canada and Spain, and change is on the cards in Italy, Portugal and even Ireland. Proposals are under consideration in Scotland, Jersey and the Isle of Man that could be voted on before the end of next year.
Our hospice and end-of-life care in this country is superb, but nobody—not even the most ardent defenders of the palliative provisions that are in place—can claim that every person who dies in their care does so without pain, in peace and with dignity. For those facing even the prospect of a traumatic death, knowing that they had the option of choosing the moment and manner of their end would offer so much reassurance.
Right now, some people with terminal illnesses feel they have no other option than to take their own life into their own hands. They do so privately and alone so as not to incriminate their loved ones, and they often do so in violent and distressing ways. The Office for National Statistics published data in April demonstrating that those with severe health conditions are twice as likely to end their own life as those without. Estimates suggest that every week, between six and 12 people with terminal illnesses choose to die in that way.
We have evidence of the harm caused by our existing laws, and growing evidence of the reforms we could adopt from overseas. New polling from YouGov shows that three quarters of the British public support an inquiry into assisted dying, including 80% of Conservative voters, 77% of Labour voters, 80% of those who voted remain and 79% of those who voted leave. It is refreshing to find unity in our politics at the moment, and it is clear from every opinion poll on the subject that assisted dying is a unifying issue for people across the country. I understand that the Health and Social Care Committee is considering conducting an inquiry into the subject, including looking at the experience of countries that are ahead of us on the issue. I very much hope that it will do so, and that its report will inform the thinking of the Government and the House.
In closing, I ask that when my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, he acknowledges the enormous changes that have taken place over the past couple of years, both internationally and in UK jurisdictions. We cannot continue to let dying people’s suffering go unanswered; it is time for dignity, for compassion, and for a choice at the end of life.