All 1 Baroness Watkins of Tavistock 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]

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 22nd October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. The Bill before us is designed to allow terminally ill, mentally capable adults the option of accelerating their deaths with medical assistance. I believe that it has sufficient safeguards in place to protect the rights of those who do not want to use this option, while extending autonomy to people who may want to consider shortening their lives in the last few months before their expected death.

I stress that no healthcare practitioner should have to be involved in actively assisting dying. There is a precedent for such an approach in relation to the termination of pregnancy to ensure that the rights, beliefs and cultural wishes of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are protected. The Royal College of Nursing states:

“Everyone has the right to be cared for with dignity and respect as they approach the end of their lives.”

The RCN was the first royal college to declare a neutral position on this issue, which seems to reflect public opinion and, perhaps, the fact that nurses spend more time with people who are going through the end of life process than other healthcare professionals. The RCN guidelines on care state:

“Dying adults should have the choice on assisted dying with strict safeguards. A change in the law would better protect patients and healthcare professionals and provide greater control and access to services at the end of life.”

It is vital that people who have symptoms they deem intolerable at the end of their lives should have the autonomy to choose whether they wish to request assistance with dying. Every person finds different aspects of gradual loss of human function distressing, but some more so than others. Many nurses report that some cognitively aware patients find faecal incontinence as mentally anguishing as intractable pain. I have personally witnessed patients who have soiled themselves—despite kind, compassionate care to keep them as clean and odour-free as possible— saying, “How much longer will this go on? I have had enough. I cannot go on like this. Can you stop my suffering soon?”

My noble friend Lady Murphy presented much of the international evidence and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, described the influence of his father’s request on his support for the Bill. Taken together with the contributions of other noble Lords and the many communications that I have received, this has enabled me to confirm my support for the Bill. It intends that assisted dying is to complement palliative care rather than to be a replacement. However, there are known disparities in the access to and availability of palliative care services, which are notably limited for people from lower socioeconomic positions and those of minority ethnicity. I trust that, if this Bill proceeds, it will act as a catalyst to fill the gaps in the access to and availability of palliative care for the entire UK population. Assisted dying should never become the norm, but rather be an adjunct to excellent palliative care.