Frank Field — who served as MP for Birkenhead for 40 years — announced today that he is dying while voicing his support for the Assisted Dying Bill.
The private member’s bill has been put forward by crossbench peer Baroness Meacher, and aims to allow terminally ill adults to be provided with assistance at the request to end their own life.
Whilst delivering her own opening statement in the Lords on Friday, Baroness Meacher said: “Now I want to tell you something you’ll find a little surprising.
“Our colleague Lord Field of Birkenhead, who is dying, asked me to read out a short statement.”
Reading the statement, she continued: “I’ve just spent a period in a hospice, and I’m not well enough to participate in today’s debate.
“If I had been, I’d have spoken strongly in favour of a second reading. I changed my mind on assisted dying when an MP friend was dying of cancer and wanted to die early before the full horror effects set in, but was denied this opportunity.
“He goes on, a major argument against the bill is unfounded. It is thought by some the culture will change and that people will be pressured into ending their lives.
“The number of assisted deaths in the US and Australia met remains very low under 1% and the former Supreme Court judge in Victoria, Australia about pressure from relatives said it just hasn’t been an issue. I hope the house will today vote for the assisted dying Bill, said Lord Field.”
Frank Field served as MP for Birkenhead for 40 years between 1979 and 2019. He sat as a Labour MP for 39 of those years before resigning the whip in 2018 over antisemitism in the Labour party.
Field stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the newly-formed pro-Brexit Birkenhead Social Justice Party in the 2019 general election, but lost to the Labour candidate Mich Whitley.
The House of Lords are debating a bill on allowing assisted suicide for terminally ill people.
The public overwhelmingly support allowing doctor-assisted for terminal patients (by 73% to 9%) but our survey of MPs shows they are split (35% vs 35%)https://t.co/llxY7vlzPO pic.twitter.com/qdgzJnmogS
— YouGov (@YouGov) October 21, 2021
He became Baron Field of Birkenhead in September 2020, having been nominated for a peerage in 2019.
In UK law, euthanasia, or assisted dying, is treated as murder or manslaughter under the Suicide Act 1961, which makes it an offence to have “complicity in another’s suicide”.
“The fact is that there has been a most extraordinary shift in medical opinion over the last five years,” Lady Meacher told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.
“Five years ago, all the royal colleges were against assisted dying. Now one after another, the Royal College of Physicians ended their opposition in 2019, only last month the BMA ended their opposition. These organisations do undertake surveys of their members.”
She continued: “There are situations where palliative care cannot alleviate the symptoms and those are the people that we want to have the right to assisted death.”
Recent YouGov polling showed that, while the public overwhelmingly support allowing doctor-assisted death for terminal patients by 73% to 9%, MPs are more split with 35% in favour to 35% opposed.
Devizes MP Danny Kruger, who chairs the APPG on Dying Well, is among those opposed to the Bill.
In a letter co-signed by former Hospice UK chair Lord Howard, which was sent to Peers earlier this month, Kruger warned that introducing assisted dying could reduce funding for palliative care and that the scope of the Bill risked being expanded.
“We understand and share the very real concern that people have about themselves of their loved ones dying over a prolonged period in pain and distress,” the letter read.
“This concern should prompt us to invest more in proper end-of-life care.”
It continued: “Rather than changing the law to allow the prescription of lethal drugs, we should be putting all our energies into improving access to the best possible care. This is not compatible with the option proposed in the Meacher Bill.”
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also expressed his opposition to the Bill, warning that it could lead to a “slippery slope”.
“My fear is that, despite its protections against abuse, an Assisted Dying Act could lead to a slippery slope, and that over time legislators — undoubtedly out of compassion and a desire to avoid suffering — would be unable to resist the erosion of the safeguards against the taking of life,” he wrote in The Times this week.
“And while the end result may not be called assisted dying on demand, harm will be caused. Better to provide palliative care that we know is caring and loving and will make possible a good death.”