Frank Field MP
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A Right to Exit

The News of the World this week carried a news story - I don't know why it has been resurrected - about assisted suicide, which involved me. The tale is as follows.

One of my great friends was Barbara Wootton - one of the most intelligent people of the last century. We would have tea regularly in the House of Lords where she was a distinguished Member.

On a trip to her barn outside Dorking she told me she had joined Exit. She was intent to take her own life if she became severely incapacitated.

Better still, from Barbara's point of view, she had persuaded more than one of the Lords, who was also a doctor, to prescribe the necessary drugs for her to carry out her objective.

At the time Exit was in the news. A daughter had come home and heard a terrible commotion upstairs in her mother's bedroom.

She rushed into the room to find that a representative of Exit was sitting by the bed with a woolly hat on eating a banana sandwich. There was a plastic bag over her mother's head. She pulled the bag free.

I told Barbara that surely she didn't want to have an end like this. She assured me that she would not, but she was a paid-up member of Exit.

I thought nothing more of this until I received a phone call from what were then called geriatric wards telling me that Barbara was a patient. I went down to see her. On being taken to the bathroom Barbara called to me that she was keeping a note in her handbag of the differences between hospital and prison, adding the list wasn't very long.

Soon afterwards she was transferred to a residential care home and on the occasions when I visited her I expected her to ask me to go to her barn and collect the prescription that had been given to her.

I knew what the consequences would be. I believe people have the right to commit suicide at the end of their lives. But I believe it proper that the law protects them by prosecuting those who help in this act.

If Barbara had asked I would have helped her by collecting those drugs. The consequences would be that I might be imprisoned and would lose my seat.

I believe that to be just. How else can people like Barbara be protected from people posing as close friends who might, for example, be main beneficiaries under her will?

I was not in this position. So that part of the question never arose. But I believe that the present law protects vulnerable old people from this abuse.

It was also protects them in another equally important respect. Once we change the law on assisted suicide old frail people - and perhaps frail young people - might feel that, as they were a burden, they should put an end prematurely to their lives.

It is very noticeable that no-one charged under the existing law has been sentenced. So the law acts wisely. It acts as a safeguard. And I believe that this status quo is better than any alternative on offer - including the latest attempt by Lord Faulkner to reform the law on assisted suicide.
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