Thank you, and it is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship.
I welcome today’s important debate on what is undoubtedly an evocative issue and I, as I am sure will be the case for the other Members here today, have been contacted by many of my constituents in Hastings and Rye about it.
There are many areas in need of thorough consideration when it comes to potentially legalising assisted dying/suicide but, given the great interest shown in this debate, I will focus my comments on one part of it that I feel is often at risk of being overlooked.
As has already been referenced in previous speeches, there are now numerous countries, territories and jurisdictions where assisted dying/suicide has been legalised and evidence from these places – particularly surrounding the negative impact on doctors – is a legitimate cause for concern.
Such evidence suggests that the practice of assisted suicide/dying has a severe and detrimental impact on medical professionals, as well as the provision of palliative care more generally.
Emotional, medical and practical problems faced by doctors have grown in places where legalisation is already in place, and these issues are not something that should be taken lightly.
A review of official data by Living and Dying Well found that between 30-50% of clinicians describe an emotional burden or discomfort resulting from participation in assisted dying/suicide and euthanasia, and 15-20% experience a lasting adverse psychological or emotional impact too.
More specifically, and turning to the example of Canada just across the pond, they also found that clinicians there reported five specific issues surrounding legalisation including that it:
- Complicates the management of pre-existing symptoms
- Adversely impacts the important doctor-patient relationship
- Causes tension on families during what is often already a deeply challenging period
- Diverts resources away from crucial palliative care services
- And confuses patients as to the nature and purpose of palliative care
When considered as a whole, these issues reported by practising clinicians in Canada are not something that we as lawmakers can or should overlook, and I believe that the highlighted impacts on palliative care provision are of particular concern.
This care, by definition, aims to improve the quality of life for both patients and their families as they face the problem of life-threatening illness, including through identifying, assessing and treating pain and other problems via physical, psychosocial and spiritual means.
If legalisation of assisted dying/suicide risks complicating the delicate aims of palliative care leave then I question whether it can be considered morally right or just, and evidence that suggests growth in such services stalls when legalisation takes place is a cause for concern too.
From unregulated practice to the growing spread of related misinformation, there are many other areas of this debate worthy of further consideration, and I am glad that today we Members have the valuable opportunity to discuss them in an open and constructive manner.
However, and unlike as has been the case in the not too distant past, this discussion is no longer solely theoretical or philosophical.
The countries, territories and jurisdictions where assisted dying/suicide has already been made legal can be used as real-world case studies of its impacts, and that which has already been reported by clinicians - for example those in Canada - should make us all pause for thought.
We all want to see the best support available for those people that are nearing the end of their lives as well as their families, and, looking at the evidence that I have highlighted today, I remain convinced that palliative care – support for people physically, mentally and spiritually – remains the most appropriate and ethical means of doing this.