A number of constituents have been in touch with me regarding assisted dying and I would like to clarify where both the Government and I stand on this issue.
I fully accept that suicide, assisting or encouraging suicide, assisted dying and euthanasia are all subjects on which it is entirely possible for people to hold widely different but defensible opinions. This is why the substance of the law in this area is not a matter of party politics but of conscience. Should the law in this area ever be altered, it is neither a matter for government to decide nor a matter for the judiciary, but ultimately a matter for Parliament.
I accept that there are imperfections and problems with the current law, but I think that these can be dealt with sensitively and sensibly without having a new law that actually brings in euthanasia. I fear that if we were to introduce such a law, terminally ill people may feel pressurised into ending their lives if they feel they have become a burden on loved ones. I do not believe we should place anyone in this position and believe that any such change in the law may have a profound impact on the relationship of terminally ill patients with their doctors. I take this view because I believe that there is a very fine, but at the same time very important line to be drawn between allowing nature to take its course under some appalling circumstances and, on the other hand, permitting doctors or others (however well-intentioned) to accelerate death.
We should not tread over this line by allowing doctors or others deliberately to accelerate death. However, doctors should be allowed administer pain relief to prevent suffering even if the consequence is death. As I understand it, this is permissible in law and is the practice of many doctors now. Everyone would agree that terminally ill patients should receive the highest quality palliative support and end-of-life care, and that they and their families should be certain that their end-of-life care will meet all of their needs.
With that in mind I welcome the Department of Health's End of Life Care Strategy which is intended to improve access to good quality palliative care and encourage the Government further to develop specialist palliative care and hospice provision.