3 Baroness Blackstone debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Fri 22nd Oct 2021
Assisted Dying Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading

Humanist Marriages

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Tuesday 29th November 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Bakewell Portrait Baroness Bakewell
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To ask His Majesty’s Government when they intend to give legal recognition to humanist marriages.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Bakewell on the Order Paper.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, the Law Commission recently published its report on reforming wedding law in England and Wales. We must consider the 57 recommendations in full. It is important that we balance the needs and interests of all groups, religious and non-religious, and very carefully consider the implications of changing the law. I hope to be able to publish our initial response in the first part of next year.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply but I must say that I am a little disappointed by it. The Law Commission, to which he referred, took no position on this question. It did not make a recommendation one way or the other. That is because this is a political decision. What is preventing the Government from going ahead and laying an order under the 2013 Act, getting it done now, and stopping once and for all the discrimination against humanists in this area?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, in a nutshell, the Government’s position is that to lay an order under the 2013 Act solely in favour of humanists would discriminate against other groups—Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and so forth—in permitting them to have a particular form of marriage not available to other groups. The Government’s position is that we must go forward together and solve the whole problem. I will elaborate in a moment on what the problem is.

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 22nd October 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Ind Lab)
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My Lords, I support this Bill, as an assisted dying law is needed to address the unacceptable suffering of dying people and the dangerous lack of protections in the current law. Since assisted dying was last debated, we have stronger, more compelling evidence that the current blanket ban on assisted dying does not work. We know that people are forced to travel overseas to exercise control over their death, that some people remain beyond the reach of even the best palliative care and that others are being driven to end their lives in lonely and violent ways.

My grandmother was in the third of these categories. Terminally ill in hospital, riddled with cancer and suffering horribly, she desperately wanted to die. One night, she took her own life by swallowing sleeping pills that she had brought into hospital with her. My mother found the empty pill bottle in her bag the next day. How much better it would have been for her if assisted dying had been available, allowing her children and grandchildren to be with her, providing her with comfort, affection and love, instead of her terribly lonely death after prolonged suffering.

Research published this week by Dignity in Dying estimates that, like my grandmother, up to 650 dying people end their lives each year and up to 6,500 try to do so. We must acknowledge just how many people are adversely affected by the current blanket ban on assisted dying. In 2015, during the Committee stage of the Assisted Dying Bill of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, amendments tabled to the Bill that would have inserted the phrases “assistance with suicide” and “commit suicide” were rejected by this House in recognition that the word “suicide” does not accurately reflect the assisted dying process. Some opposing this Bill are, again, referring to assisted suicide, but they should know that they are out of touch with the public when giving this description of what this Bill would legalise: 73% said that the Assisted Dying Bill was the appropriate title, whereas just 10% said it should be the Assisted Suicide Bill.

People who are terminally ill and near the end of their lives want to control the way they die. Presenting this as suicide is misleading: it does not reflect the academic literature or the views of dying people and their families. A change in the law would reduce anxiety and horrible suffering. It would create a law that would be open, transparent and, above all, humane, with strong protection through appropriate safeguards for the vulnerable. It would respect public opinion, given that 80% of people of faith and an overwhelming 84% of the general population support assisted dying.

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

Baroness Blackstone Excerpts
Friday 18th July 2014

(10 years ago)

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Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer on introducing this Bill. Parliament must have the courage to consider these issues, as the Supreme Court has said. The current law is not working and those who claim that it is are being complacent. The law now needs to be clarified, as others have already explained so well.

We live in a society that promotes individual autonomy and values allowing its members to choose how they spend their lives. We value freedom of speech, of association and of movement. We value tolerance and allowing people to make their own choices, even if we wish to make different choices. The same freedom of choice that applies to how we live should also apply to how we die. If we respect human rights, we should not deny those who know that they are dying the right to bring their lives to a more rapid end to alleviate their misery.

I do not normally talk about my own experience in this House but today I will break my own rule. I have been haunted for a long time by the death of my grandmother, to whom I was very close. Hospitalised with terminal cancer, she longed to die and to escape her agonising pain. She told my mother that she had a bottle of sleeping pills with her, prescribed before she went into hospital. The morning after my grandmother died, my mother found the empty pill bottle in her handbag. She had made her decision without being able to talk about it, and taken the pills with no one to hold her hand or comfort her—with no one to say goodbye to—by herself in a hospital bed.

When my former husband was diagnosed with stomach cancer and given six to nine months to live, eventually becoming overwhelmed by horrible pain and terrible discomfort, he was cared for at home by superb hospice nurses, for whom I had the greatest admiration. But it was harrowing for him and for those who loved him. Ten days before he died, he said to me, “I just want this to come to an end”. I asked the health professionals if they could help him to die as he desperately wanted. Of course, they could not.

Those who argue that palliative care can always ensure a peaceful and painless death are flying in the face of the evidence, as I know from my own experience. I greatly admire the doctors who have chosen this specialism, and of course I want to see more patients benefiting from palliative care, but I would admire them much more if they admitted that not everyone can be freed by this treatment from the viciously painful death that they are suffering. It would be more compassionate to accept this and to reflect on a system that combines palliative care with legally assisted dying for those whose suffering has become unbearable.

I have received many letters from members of the public describing the horrors of the prolonged and painful deaths of people they love, or violent and lonely suicides such as that of my grandmother. These letters are of course anecdotal, as is my own experience, but what is not anecdotal is the strength of public opinion about the need for a change in the law. As others have said, opinion polls show that an overwhelming proportion of those asked favour change. A recent survey also showed that most Anglicans, Catholics and Jews back assisted dying. So I beg religious leaders to respond to the views of their congregations. I also hope that those who are against this carefully constructed Bill will think again by looking at the evidence from Oregon, where assisted dying has not led to the slippery slope or to countless dying people being pushed into it.

Let us be clear: the safeguards in the Bill are strict. The numbers wishing to make use of its provisions will be limited. Let us therefore back it in the interests of love for our fellow human beings, compassion, the relief of suffering and respect for the right of individuals to make their own decisions.