Chris Philp MP replies to an open letter on assisted dying

By - Thursday 10th September, 2015

After Robert Ward’s open letter on the subject, Croydon South’s MP outlines his views on assisted dying

I have been contacted by many constituents about the upcoming Assisted Dying Bill, and I appreciate that many people have concerns about this extremely sensitive issue. Coping with a terminal illness is very distressing for both the patient and their families.

Everyone agrees that terminally ill patients should receive the highest quality palliative care and end-of-life support. I welcome the Department of Health’s ‘End of Life Care Strategy’, which is intended to improve access to good quality palliative care and encourage the development of more specialist palliative care and hospice provision.

The current situation with assisted dying is not satisfactory. It is estimated that 300 people with terminal illnesses per year are assisted in ending their own life at their own request. This is currently illegal, but the Director of Public Prosecutions has indicated that she will not prosecute cases where compassionate assistance is given by non-medical third parties. This judgement is made by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after the event. A recent Supreme Court judgement called on parliament to legislate on this issue to make the law clear, rather than relying on CPS to make case-by-case judgement calls after the event. A number of people also travel to Switzerland to end their own lives.

I do not believe that as an MP I should impose my personal preferences on other people

I would not personally wish to end my own life under any circumstances, nor would I want a member of my family to do so. However, I also believe in personal choice on matters that affect the individual, and I do not believe that as an MP I should impose my personal preferences on other people through legislation. I believe that people should be allowed to make their own personal choices about these kind of issues.

There should of course be very stringent safeguards to make sure that people cannot be coerced or pressured into ending their own life, and the circumstances in which someone can be assisted in ending their life should be very strictly limited.

The bill coming before parliament on 11th September will allow a patient to be assisted by a doctor in ending their own life where that person:

  • Is of sound mind (so, for example, someone with dementia would not qualify)
  • Is over 18 years old
  • Is terminally ill, with a prognosis that they have less than 6 months life expectancy
  • Has not been coerced in any way
  • The request for assistance is clear and settled

These conditions, and others, must be signed off in writing by two doctors, one of whom is independent. The matter is then referred to a High Court Judge, who must also sign off the request for assistance. These are very significant requirements. Any doctor will have the ability to opt out of assisting a patient in ending their own life if they wish to. Under the draft bill, the medication to end life must be self-administered by the patient, but the doctor may provide the medication and supervise the procedure. The patient may change their mind at any time in the process.

Having read every line of the bill very carefully I am satisfied that these safeguards are strong enough. I believe that this kind of issue should be left to individuals to decide personally, subject to strict safeguards such as those above. I therefore intend to vote in favour of the bill’s second reading on 11th September. If this vote passes (which is uncertain) there are a number of further stages it must go through before becoming law.

I have tried to give a full and honest explanation of my views. However, if there are any Croydon South constituents who have not already been in touch with me and would like to share their views I would be pleased to hear from them.

Chris Philp

Chris Philp

Chris has been the Conservative Member of Parliament for Croydon South since May 2015.

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  • Jonny Rose


    I note that one of the conditions is that the person “has not been coerced in any way”.

    I’d be very interested to know what the proposed procedures are to ascertain that this is the case and what safeguards there are to prevent abuse. Can you shed any light on that point, specifically?

  • Anne Giles

    I find this very very worrying.

  • Anna Arthur

    I can’t agree Chris Philp. Just having that law in place will put pressure on sick people to end their life because they think it will be easier on their family – actually it’s the opposite. When my mother was dying of cancer we cared for her until the end and something very special happened. We came together and experienced an extraordinary closeness. It’s a few years now since my mum died and our family dynamic is greatly altered – for the better. I see it as a huge privilege to have had this experience, if my mum had had the opportunity to end it all (I doubt she would have done) then none of us would have benefited (my mum included). There’s no reason why anyone should be in pain with the medicine that’s available and our personal experience of palliative care was very good. I think allowing voluntary euthanasia is a sentimental approach, conferring rights on the few, instead of thinking about responsibilities to the majority.

    • lizsheppardjourno

      I agree, Anna. I’ve witnessed care given to the dying (both my parents) which wasn’t brilliant (although this had more to do with stretched resources on wards than anything else) but I know such care can be superb and it’s there we should direct resources. I’ve commented on this subject here before, but Jonny above puts it far more succinctly than I could: the issue is safeguarding against abuse. I don’t think this is possible, so I oppose this legislation and was pleased it was once again defeated.

      • Pass The Deutschy

        Love this comment. xx

  • Peter John Russell

    Dear Mr Philp,

    I have read your open letter on your position on the Assisted Dying bill with some interest and concern. As a local solicitor dealing with the preparation of Wills and Powers of Attorney I have regular contact with elderly people making decisions about their futures (either after death or during a period of incapacity). Sadly I often come across situations where friends or relatives are ‘in the background’ trying to influence decisions seemingly in their own interests. This make take the form of trying to manipulate the gifts under a Will or in the appointment of Attorneys.

    Often the elderly people involved believe that these friends or relatives are acting in their best interests and chose to comply with their wishes even against their on judgement. Sometimes the pressure is less obvious, and a elderly person feels morally obliged to appoint a certain person or make a particular gift. As a legal professional I trust I am able to ensure that I act only on my client’s instructions and in their best interests; however, it is not possible to police what is said to my client in the car on the way to the appointment nor what pressure is exerted in advance. Sometimes clients simply chose to do something which appears to be against their better judgement willingly and knowingly.

    I can think of a number of clients who often worry about ‘being a nuisance’ to their relatives. I would have serious concerns that given the right circumstances (such as a child in financial trouble) some elderly people would consider assisted suicide as a way of ‘helping’. Worse still is where somebody is in care and is mental capable but physically incapacitated. Whilst there may well be cogent reasons for assisted suicide in such circumstances, the financial implications of continuing life may well tip the balance in making the decision. A lifetime of care or medical treatment is expensive. What about the person who sees all they have earned in a lifetime disappearing on their care provision? Are we to allow and enabling people to preserve their finances rather than their life?

    I appreciate there are safeguards in the Bill; and no-doubt to start with, the uptake will be small. I imagine those who vote in favour will breathe a sigh of relief – glad that the floodgates were not opened. However, what will happen in 10 or 20 years time when the right to death is as entrenched in our society as a right to life?

    Regardless of one’s view of the right to die, I hope your concern for the elderly and vulnerable in Croydon will persuade you to reconsider your position.

  • Y Bachgen

    I must say I agree with Mr Philp. I would personally reduce the oversight but if this is what must be done to (finally) let very brave people determine their own future, then so be it. Vote for the bill.

  • Anne Giles

    Thank God we are all safe now.

    • Pass The Deutschy

      …for now…

  • moguloilman

    As most people are aware the Bill failed to pass its second reading so will go no further.

  • Pass The Deutschy

    I opposed this because as others have said: “How do you safeguard against abuse” I also found it worrying because laws have a nasty way of starting off as one thing and ending as another, all I saw was the very thin end of a wedge that ends in euthanasia.