MPs share experiences during assisted dying debate

The contentious topic of assisted dying has hit the headlines in recent months after Dame Esther Rantzen revealed she had joined the Dignitas clinic, having been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

She said she believed it was "important the law catches up with what the country wants" in making assisted dying legal.

And her campaign sparked a parliamentary petition, signed by over 200,000 people, calling for the issue to be debated and a fresh vote to take place on the issue.

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Though no vote or law change was on offer today, MPs crammed into Westminster Hall in parliament to discuss assisted dying and shared their experiences both for and against legalisation.

Here is a sample of the stories they shared.

For Conservative Duncan Baker, he told MPs about how his stepfather died in 2019 - five months before seeing his son elected to the Commons.

"He had a heart attack on Good Friday and, in his usual style, he dismissed it, it was just one of those things," said the MP. "Actually he needed a quadruple heart bypass.

"Just weeks later, he suffered a sudden, unexpected and dreadfully debilitating stroke."

Realising it was an odd word to use, Mr Baker still described his family as "lucky", as he was able to die peacefully at home a few days later "back in his own bed, looking into his own garden, where he wanted to be".

Mr Baker added: "My stepfather always knew he didn't want to suffer for years on end if this sort of eventuality ever happened to him. He had a vision for what he wanted, how he wanted to die, and he had a living will that the doctors in the hospital adhered to and respected.

"He didn't want to be pushed around in a wheelchair, fed by somebody else, with his grandchildren sat on his knee who he didn't recognise any more.

"If he had a condition, a stroke, or any other terminal illness, he would rather not be here and I know that I speak for millions of people around the country who too would want the dignity and respect to pass peacefully if they so choose."

But for the DUP's Carla Lockhart, the death of her father gave her a different view.

He died last year aged 66 after suffering for cancer for almost five years, and she said due to his faith "he never feared dying because he knew he was going to his heavenly home".

Ms Lockhart said her father's cancer was "absolutely horrendous" and "caused him immense pain and suffering", but despite that, she said he "knew that there was an appointed time for his home calling and it wasn't for him or any other to decide in that time".

She added: "The palliative care and cancer care was exceptional. With further investment, it could be even better.

"So I speak today, not as someone who hasn't experienced a loved one who has suffered with terminal illness. I know the journey. But I also know the one thing these people don't need is the law telling them their lives aren't worth living or that they are costing too much.

"We need to tell such people they are valued, they are important, we care for them no matter the cost and we must put our money where our mouth is and ensure that all those who need it can access high quality specialist palliative care."

But Liberal Democrat Sarah Dyke, whose partner's mother died from cancer, said: "Having cared and watched this strong, independent and dignified woman fade away in considerable pain unable to have the dignified death that she wanted will forever haunt me."

Quoting a constituent, the MP said assisted dying was "not about ending life - it is about shortening death".

Another Conservative, Simon Jupp, told the story of how one of his own constituents made his mind up on the issue.

They met when he was walking past the elderly man's garden, where he was pruning on his wife's behalf, as she was now in a local care home.

"At this point I could see he wanted to cry," said Mr Jupp. "In a very British way he apologised and went on to explain... his dear wife, the love of his life, is terminally ill, has no quality of life, lives in constant pain and can't leave her bed.

"He visits her everyday and every single day she tells him she doesn't want to be here any more. It was clearly breaking his heart."

The man asked the MP if he supported assisted dying.

"The look of relief when I said yes was palpable and we shared a moment together," said Mr Jupp. "And I will never forget that conversation."

But his Tory colleague, Sir Peter Bottomley, pointed to a member of his family who died last week, praising the care she got and the important last moments with her loved ones.

"The hour-by-hour reports of those who were sitting with her in the care home, which had a hospice end of life service, and those of my family would make a lot of people think twice," he added.

Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi spoke about her mother, who has been recovering from an illness throughout the year, and said nearly losing her had made her issue an appeal to those around her.

"Over this time I have personally wanted to talk about death and consider how I want my death to be," she said. "The experience of being in a hospital where there is death all around you, it makes you reflect.

"We have been lucky that my mother has got better, whilst her life has changed greatly, and my own person view is that if you do have a terminal diagnosis and are mentally sound, shouldn't you have the choice to take yourself out of suffering?

"Whatever comes from today's debate, I'd like everyone to consider bringing up the subject of their death with their loved ones now, not before it is too late."