View from Westminster: Assisted Dying Bill raised complex and emotive issues

Last Friday (September 11) MPs voted against Rob Marris’ Assisted Dying Bill at its Second Reading – an outcome welcomed by many but which has left many others deeply disappointed. I was one of the majority who voted against the Bill, and I wanted to use this column to explain how I came to that decision.

This was an issue that constituents contacted me about in their hundreds. Many signed online petitions either for or against the Bill. Others wrote deeply personal letters, citing their own experience with family members or friends, and explaining how this had helped them form their own beliefs. Many were highly emotive, and must have taken great strength to write. I want to reassure people that I read all of the letters and emails.

I know other MPs received a similarly large volume of correspondence. I don’t know the breakdown of the views they received, but I can say that an overwhelming majority of constituents who contacted me were against a move towards assisted dying.

I did not come to a firm position on this before the day of the vote. Rather I took time to study the contents of the Bill in detail; look at the expert evidence available; read through the views expressed by those in the medical world, and by charities working in the sector; and of course take into account all the correspondence I had received locally. I then listened to the many speeches during the debate, both for and against, made by MPs from across the political spectrum.

This was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make as an MP, but based on what I heard and read before and on the day, I decided to vote against the Bill.

Ultimately, I did not believe that the safeguards contained within it were sufficient. I felt that it could lead to a slippery slope to wider powers on euthanasia, and that it could put many doctors, nurses and others in very difficult positions. I also had concerns about decisions being made under circumstances of great mental stress and often deep depression.

I believe our priority must be to ensure good palliative care, that addresses people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs, is available to and accessible by all across the UK.

We are fortunate to have the wonderful Marie Curie Hospice in Penarth – which I have visited – but too many people in the UK do not have access to such superb care in their final days.

I appreciate that end-of-life care and laws concerning assisted dying are complex and emotive, and there are strongly-held ethical and moral arguments on both sides. I appreciate also that many of you will disagree fundamentally with the position I took, while others will be in full agreement. Whatever your views, I want to thank each and every one of you who contacted me.

* Stephen writes his weekly View From Westminster column for the Penarth Times. This column appeared in the edition of Thursday, September 17.


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