It is very hot on the pavements outside Parliament today, and getting hotter by the minute. I am with a crowd of Dignity in Dying folk, and wearing a “The more we diealog the more we live” T-shirt too. I am also holding a large plum coloured banner in my hand which is working quite well as a shade against the burning midday sun. The wording on the banner puts me on the side of The Bill (the Assisted Dying Bill).
Inside the House of Lords the peers are debating The Bill. One hundred and twenty eight peers have asked to speak, which is some kind of record . I am told this by a woman who has been in the public gallery listening to the debate since it began this morning, but has now come outside for some fresh air. She says that it is hard to hear what most of the peers are saying since they all tend to speak very quietly.
Because there are so many wishing to speak inside, each peer is only being allowed four minutes. This is democracy at work and what is more it all has to be over with and voted on by dinner time this evening, at which time there is a chance that The Bill will have been given its second reading. But it will still be a long way off from becoming law.
Inside earlier this morning the Archbishop of York used his allocated four minutes to put the official position of the Anglican church against The Bill. I wonder if he enjoyed doing that, or whether he would actually rather have showed solidarity with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and spoken for it. The moral compass is not easy. But then it shouldn’t it be.
Even though as Big Ben strikes noon everything is beginning to shimmer and my vision is beginning to bleach, I would still rather be outside on the pavement. Hot, but I don’t know what all the fuss is about really… except of course I do. I cast around looking for a soapbox to stand on, but there isn’t one so far as I can see. Lord Soper would not have missed an opportunity like this of course – indeed I expect he would have probably brought his own soapbox to stand on – and he would have known exactly what he wanted to say in his four minutes.
Whereas I…? Stepping up I say that we are all good enough experts when it comes to knowing the time when our life is over (in the last 6 months of a certain terminal illness and with appropriate safeguards as The Bill describes), and for a very small number this time of knowing is not the same time as our last biological breath.
“I want to die. Help me”, we say asking for compassion in extremis (‘You wouldn’t keep a dog alive’), and respect for individual autonomy (‘choice’ – subject only to the well known harm principle of not hurting others by our death).
Except the heat is getting to me and there isn’t a real soapbox for me to step up on, and I reflect it is probably better that way as I observe my viewpoint melting away in the midday sun.