Don’t Deny The Right To Debate

This week, in the UK, the House of Lords (an anachronistic undemocratic institution that is about as relevant to modern life as the Royal Family!)  proved to me that it can, occassionally, be of some worth.  They held a debate about Assisted Suicide, with the aim to alter the law so that relatives and friends who assisted someone in organising their own death (i.e. travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland) would be immune from prosecution.

This was an incredibly important and worthy debate, with passionate speeches from all sides of the argument. It was eye-opening and educational, it offered glimpses into parts of the debate otherwise closed off, and most of all, it allowed for the issue to be aired publicly rather than behind government doors, or in the boardrooms of the NHS.

BUT, one Lord, Baroness Campbell, spoke about her belief that the Lords should not even be discussing the issue, that it should not be debated, that bringing such discussion into the public would frighten and worry vulnerable individuals who she believes would become victims of any such change in the law.  Now let me point out to those who do not know, that Baroness Campbell suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, is in a wheelchair and the disease is progressive.  I am a big fan of hers, and in awe of the commitment she puts in to making her position in the Lords, one of dignity and one of representation of the people.  Her argument against assisted suicide continues in today’s Daily Mail, and as ever, she writes eloquently and with passion and knowledge.

BUT, to call for a debate to be stopped? To say that an issue is too sensitive, too complicated, too emotive to be debated at the highest levels? To deny the right to debate, when you yourself are using that right to call for it’s removal?  If the only way you feel you can win an argument is to deny the right to argue, you really don’t have an argument to win.  That is the road to fascism, starting with emotional blackmail and ending in wholescale repression and the removal of freedom of speech.

Becuase she HAD the right to debate, around 15 of her Lords peers changed their view on the issue and supported her.  In the end the vote to change the law was defeated by a small but important margin.  Because of her passionate speech and experiences many more people now know a little bit more about the issue and can raise the level of debate up. 

I personally believe in the individual’s freedom to choose.  Be that about death, or life, or religion, or politics, or sexuality, or just music and movies.  So long as that choice affects only the individual…parents deciding a child’s religion is WRONG, governments deciding what sexuality is legal is WRONG, those of faith deciding who can live or die is WRONG.  I agree with Baroness Campbell that a right to death is riddled with dangers for the vulnerable, confused, depressed or easily misled.  It is open to family abuse and abuse by governments.  Any such right HAS to be tempered with rules and guidelines, an ability to police and a willingness to adapt.  BUT, to deny those who genuinely have made an informed and educated decision to end their lives, and whose family and/or friends choose, or are asked to assist them…well, this is simply WRONG.  Do not demonise those who know their own lives best.  Demonise those who would try to take life from others against their will.

But please, let us not allow the insidious errosion of of right to debate, our right to discuss, our right to argue.  At the heart of our democracy is the concept of debate.  Our laws are, for the most part, open to adaptation because of discussion and debate, within government and within the media.  And while discussion of emotive and complex issues such as assisted suicide can and will be frightening to some, it is always better to have the discussion in the light where it can be monitored than in the shadows where is will go unchecked.

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