All 1 Debates between Baroness Flather and Baroness Meacher

Fri 23rd Mar 2018
Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Flather and Baroness Meacher
Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather (CB)
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My Lords, I have been trying to stand up for some minutes. First, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who introduced the Abortion Act. There are very few times when something like that has gone through Parliament. The Earl of Arran took the Sexual Offences Act, which protected gay consenting adults, through this House. They were great milestones that looked to the future. I fear that this Bill is looking backwards. I do not like the idea of anything looking backwards. I will say more about not providing help for terminally ill or dying patients. We talked about human rights. I believe it is a woman’s human right to be able to access abortion. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said, abortions take place anyway and women die. That is the difference. We do not want women to die, but if a woman cannot bring up a child or does not want a child, it is better that she can access abortion.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I was not planning to intervene in this group, but the entire debate has focused on abortion. Amendment 1 also applies to the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment at the end of life. That is a totally different situation from abortion. These people are finding life unbearable, they are finding their treatment intolerable, they are facing the fact that they are dying, and they want something to happen. They want to be able to have their life-sustaining treatment withdrawn. Of course under current law someone with a conscientious objection who might be expected to help with that process has an absolute right not to do so. The great concern of those of us concerned about the end of life rather than the very beginning of it is that a lot of people towards the end of life find themselves in hospices, and we hope more of them will do so over time.

If you extend conscientious objection to supervisors, managers and so on, hospices do not have armies of staff. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, made the point that there are 1 million-plus people in the NHS, so surely there are people who can undertake abortions. Yes, but if you are an elderly, very sick person in a hospice and the manager of that hospice, the supervisor or someone else has a conscientious objection, you are likely to find yourself unable to exercise your absolute right to have your life-sustaining treatment withdrawn. That right cannot be fulfilled. The GMC makes very clear in its guidance that no one should be able to exercise a conscientious objection unless they ensure that someone else will take over that role, but that is likely to be impossible.