Andrew Speaks On The Debate: Assisted Dying Bill

Hansard Contribution By Lord Mawson (CB) On Friday 22 October 2021

My Lords, it is good that we are having this debate today, but I fear I must repeat arguments I have made before, because I do not believe the practical risks are any less since I made them. I do not share the same confidence as some in the machinery of the state—my noble friend Lord Carlile just raised one of the practical challenges.

The Bill seems to assume that we live in a rational world and that families and individuals can be trusted to behave in a rational manner and make rational decisions when faced with the trauma of losing a loved one in circumstances that the Bill describes. As a jobbing clergyman who has spent the past 40 years of my life working with probably some of the most vulnerable families in this country and who has presided over what must be hundreds of family bereavements and funerals, which has been both a great privilege and a responsibility, I know from experience that reason and rational behaviour are often not what we are dealing with in crises such as these.

Individuals and families say and do many things when they are vulnerable which they regret later, but at the time seem all too clear. Anomalies exist that show that people change their minds over whether they want to live or die, and intelligent debate must acknowledge those anomalies. I share the concerns about the dangers raised by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.

An intelligent debate must be aware that rational judgment is not everything. I shared last time the story of a Bengali man who wanted to die but did not; he was saved by the present law. Those who say they want to die are always profoundly tied up in a complex set of social, cultural and family relationships, and pressures that an outsider will have limited understanding of. I always tell people who do not come from Yorkshire that to understand us you must be one of us—or Toggle showing location of Column 435forget it. Imagine a western doctor trying to understand the inner emotions and family conversations taking place with this Bengali man. I have worked with this community for 36 years, and I am still struggling to understand the inner workings of another culture I am not a part of. Are we saying, in this case, that it would have to be two Bengali doctors who make the decision? If so, which bit of Bangladesh would they be expected to come from? Could we be certain that there would always be a Bengali doctor on hand? If there was, how would we test what family connections there were and what family conflicts there had been in the past that the doctor might be unintentionally connected with? This is all subtle stuff for all of us, often unspoken, and a can of worms. I share the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings.

So much of this debate is about “Me, me, me: my rights, my life, my choice”. Yet we human beings are fundamentally social creatures. We are not islands floating aimlessly in a sea but are part of a family, a community and a culture. What we do as individuals has profound rational and irrational effects on us all. Human beings can achieve great things, but we can also behave like sheep. Once the herd starts to move on this, it may well move together. I share the concerns of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, on this matter. Human beings can achieve great things, but they can behave like sheep; once the herd starts to move, we may all move together, and the people who will pay the price, I worry, will not be the well-meaning, or the financially secure who can choose, but the vulnerable.

Link to the debate published on Friday 22 October 2021