All 1 Lord Leigh of Hurley contributions to the Assisted Dying Bill [HL] 2021-22

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

2nd reading & 2nd reading

Assisted Dying Bill [HL] Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

Lord Leigh of Hurley Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 22nd October 2021

(2 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the very many people who have contacted me. I have received some very eloquent, personalised notes, and even a few handwritten ones. I can only apologise that I cannot reply to them all, but they were all very poignant, and helped me in addressing this very delicate and sensitive subject. I remind the House that I am president of Westminster Synagogue, and I also chair a number of faith-based charities, although I of course speak only in a personal capacity.

I am in favour of the Bill. It seems to me balanced and considered. I would, however, like to see within the regulations specified in Clause 3(8), assurances that the attending doctor and the independent doctor are truly independent of any commercial organisation which might be facilitating assisted dying, and a register established counting the number of times a person performs as either an attending or an independent doctor, to ensure that there is not some sort of go-to doctor who might be too malleable.

People live for far longer than ever before and, while this is to be welcomed, there are bound to be unintended consequences. Modern medicine can keep a person alive but cannot always control or negate the pain and suffering that some illnesses, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which was identified by one of my correspondents, will inflict before death.

I also believe, like my noble friend Lord, Lord Vinson, that it is the right of every citizen to determine as much as possible about their own life. This is not a Bill about suicide or euthanasia. It is restricted to very specific circumstances, where a person is terminally ill and is reasonably expected to die within six months. Experience in Oregon shows that, surprisingly, very few people exercise their right to take this route. We are not at risk of opening the floodgates here but are more giving people an option which they find comforting.

I know that my noble friend the Minister is also someone of deep faith—indeed, of my faith, albeit that we are members of different strands. I count myself as a progressive Jew. It is a term for reform Judaism, as opposed to Orthodox Judaism. I am particularly indebted to a progressive rabbi, Dr Jonathan Romain. He and I do not agree on everything—in fact we had a debate on a Radio 4 Sunday show only a few weeks ago—but he explained to me that the biblical injunction that there is a time to be born and a time to die was assumed by many to mean that the time to die was to be preordained by the Almighty.

That has long since not been the case, as mankind’s ingenuity, medical expertise and skills—some would say, God-given—have allowed humans to extend life considerably. There is no doubt that the Old Testament believes in the sanctity of life, or, as Tevye the milkman used to say, “To Life”—I will not sing it.

“To Life” does not mean that we should believe in the sanctity of suffering. Suffering is to be avoided at all costs. Indeed, the public, medics and clerics are more and more in favour of welcoming the Bill. This House should do so as well.