JH One of the more harrowing images of this past week, was the family of a British woman gathering round her as she walked into a small flat in Switzerland, to kill herself. She was Doctor Anne Turner, a retired GP, She was 66 and she had an incurable, degenerative brain disease. She wanted to die before she became so ill that her suffering was intolerable and she could not do anything to help herself. But in this country of course, it's illegal, for a doctor to help someone commit suicide. As it happens another attempt is being made, or is about to be made now to change that law, I'll be talking to that man behind it in a moment. Let's hear first from a woman who is also desperately ill but is campaigning against making assisted suicide legal. Our correspondent, Tom Feilding been talking to her. Because of her disability, her speech is not easy to understand.
TF Gillian Gerhardi logs onto the internet, and gives me the guided tour of her website, will to live, where she campaigns against voluntary euthanasia.
GG Get my glasses on.
TF A mother of two, Gillian's been battling Cerabal Palsy all her life. Five years ago she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative disease that put her in a wheelchair, and will eventually kill her.
TF But right now, Gillian's more concerned about the death of Doctor Anne Turner, who travelled to Switzerland this week, to kill herself, with the help of Dignitas, a clinic that assists the terminally ill to commit suicide.
GG It does get - almost heartbreaking - when you see people like her, throwing away their lives. There are ways to get round lots of physical problems. God, do I know, I do it all the time. It's just such a waste.
TF Gillian's not unsympathetic to the plight many terminally ill or severely disabled people find themselves in, and admits to having considered taking her own life. But by legislating to allow assisted suicide, she fears, we could be putting vulnerable people in an even more difficult position.
GG If you've got a little old lady and you've got a daughter or a niece, quietly saying, "it's time you ought to go," she wouldn't be able to say "No." I know the doctors are supposed to verify, but how do you find that out? You ask little old lady, "has anybody put you up to this," and she says, "No, of course not."
TF Having met you, it's quite clear that you don't feel like that all, that you, have a great zest for life. But if somebody doesn't feel like that, if somebody does feel that things really have gone too far, and they no longer have a will to live as you do,
GG The big problem here, is society, because it's very easy for the able bodies to make assumptions about what is worth keeping. If you put the right to die on the statute book, you're taking away thousands of people's right to life.
TF Put in her place, Gillian's realistic enough to know, most abled bodied people would probably say, they'd rather be dead. The point is, they're not in her place, and can't possibly know, whether a life blighted by severe disability is worth living.
JH Tom Feilding there, well on the line is Lord Joffe who has been trying to get a version of an assisted dying bill through the House of Lords for some time now and you'll be making another attempt, Lord Joffe.
LJ That is correct, yes, a new, um, um, I've er introduced a new Bill to the House, em, House of Lords, enabling terminally ill patients, who have had mental capacity and are suffering terribly, to ask for assistance to end their lifes.
LJ Well I, listening to Mrs Gerhardi I greatly admire her courage in carrying on with her life, despite her, her being, her suffering so terribly. But jus - in the same way I greatly admire the courage of Doctor Anne Turner who last week dragged herself to Zurich to be admit - assisted to die. And I think the point about my Bill is that it is about choice, giving terminally ill patients the option to request assistance to die, if that is what they want. It does not seek to encourage patients to end their life, it simply provides them with an additional end of life option, which they are free to take or reject as 'they and only they' individually can decide.
JH Ah, well that's the key to it, isn't it, is 'they and only they,' the point that Mrs Gerhardi made was that you put the right to die on the Statue book, and in a sense, your taking away the right to live because you introduce in the mind of the person, I'm m, this is my own langugage now of course and not hers,
JH You introduce into the mind of the person who is suffering, look, I am being a burden, on my nearest and dearest, they probably expect me to want to end my own life, so I'd better do it.
LJ I don't think people, react (in that, in that way), in that way. There is a desperate will to live, and to survive, and (most, er and most, most people,) most terminally ill patients want to carry on living. But there are some who have particular characteristics of strength and determination to exercise control over their life find the thought of being desperately ill, with no quality of life in the future, immobile perhaps, doubly incontinent, lying in bed, im - causes them terrible suffering, and they might wish to take this option.
JH But the fact is, at the moment, that we have palliative care, as you obviously very well know, and we have plenty of very good and humane doctors who they will, if they feel somebody is suffering terribly, and who is going to die anyway, they will do many things to hasten that death, we know it happens all the time, but it, isn't a legal function, isn't it better to leave well enough alone?
LJ Well, firstly I think the palliative care doctors would not agree that they do anything to hasten anybody's death, (they are desper -,) they feel that that is the last thing that they ...
JH Yes, but we all know of cancer patients who are given a great deal of morphine towards the end of their lives, that's the sort of thing that I mean.
LJ Ah I see, I see yes. Well I don't think you can leave it to doctors to make these decisions, it is the whole principle underlying my Bill is one of personal autonomy. Individual patients must make decisions in relation to their lives. It is not for doctors to make those decisions for them and some individual patients, and not a great many I might add, based on the evidence that we, that we heard on the select committee, and on our visits to Oregon and the Netherlands and Switzerland where assisted dying is permitted. Most patients prefer to carry on. But there are some who have particular characteristics where control of their own lives, and their own right to exercise a decision on how and why they die is paramount and they suffer terribly if they are not permitted this right. And the Bill is about to prevent suffering for those, and only those who want to take advantage of it.