Hexham MP Guy Opperman backs assisted suicide

ASSISTED suicide should be allowed to give the dying the choice to die, says a Northumberland MP who himself came close to death.

Guy Opperman

ASSISTED suicide should be allowed to give the dying the choice to die, says a Northumberland MP who himself came close to death.

Hexham MP Guy Opperman says that people have the right to choose to die and should be able to get help to do that when they cannot do it themselves.

And those helping should not fear prosecution, according to the MP, who is planning to speak from the heart when the House of Commons debates the issue today.

Mr Opperman was rushed to hospital last April after falling ill in Parliament. He underwent surgery to remove a brain tumour and has made a good recovery.

Referring to today’s debate, he said: “There is no whip or Government advice but I wholeheartedly support the work done by the writer Terry Pratchett, who wishes to allow people in this country to take their own life when they themselves are not able to do so, without the fear of prosecution.

“For my part I believe a person’s life belongs to that person, and his or her loved ones.

“And I will need a lot of persuading that the state knows best, and that there is no way around the clear problems that do exist. We have to find a way that provides the statutory guidance to ensure people are not abused by such a change of law – but retain their right both to life and the death of their choice.”

He added that he remained “absolutely committed to the great work of palliative careers” and welcomed news that the end-of-life care service at Corbridge’s Charlotte Straker Home had been saved.

It had been in danger of closure with funding running out at the end of the month, but health bosses are now working with the home to continue the service on a permanent basis.

“But I have received many requests from constituents to speak in this debate in support of the right to die and intend to support the motion,” said Mr Opperman.

The Conservative MP will be supporting the Commons motion welcoming the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) policy to prosecutors in respect of cases of encouraging or assisting suicide as published in February 2010.

Tory MP Richard Ottaway, who secured the debate, said it was time for Parliament to express a view on the issue of assisted suicide.

He said: “The public and the courts have shown understandable reluctance to uniformly prosecute anyone who assists a loved one to die at their request.

“Outside of Parliament, there is a consensus of support for the approach taken by the DPP in distinguishing between those who compassionately assist another to die at their request and should not be prosecuted, and those who maliciously encourage a suicide, and should face prosecution. It is now time that Parliament expresses a view.”

Page 2 - “Gerry made her own final decision” >>

“Gerry made her own final decision”

FACING death from cancer last December, Geraldine ‘Mo’ McClelland left a letter accusing UK politicians of “cowardice” on the issue of assisted suicide.

TV executive Ms McClelland, 61, chose death with dignity at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland – and, too frail to fly, had to be driven there by her brother and sister.

The letter was published posthumously, and today, from beyond the grave, her spirit will be in Westminster as the debate takes on greater momentum.

Her close friend Sheilagh Matheson, of Corbridge, Northumberland, will be in the public gallery to hear Hexham MP Guy Opperman put the case for assisted suicide without fear of prosecution.

Sheilagh and Mo met as students over 40 years ago and former Tyne Tees TV presenter Sheilagh, who runs her own media company, says her friend’s determination on the debate never wavered.

“We talked about it all those years ago and both agreed on the right to die with dignity,” says Sheilagh, a member of the campaign group Dignity In Dying.

“When ‘Gerry’, as I always knew her, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had a mastectomy and chemotherapy, but sadly it spread to her lungs and liver. She was given weeks rather than months to live, and opted for Dignitas in Switzerland.

“She had always, always, since we were students together, said that in such circumstances she wouldn’t want to undergo difficult and horrible treatments in which the side-effects of the treatment were worse than the effects of the illness.

“She wanted to be remembered as a lively, vibrant person in charge of her own life, rather than as a semi-comatose woman unable to fend for herself.

“It was three years between first diagnosis and death, but Gerry knew when the time had come.”

Too ill to fly to her final destiny, the Birmingham-born founder of Newcastle’s Live Theatre endured a two-day drive to Zurich from her London home in December with brother Neil and sister Pat.

The fear was that they could be prosecuted under UK law for assisting suicide, but nothing more has been heard in the three months since the journey.

“Gerry was extremely determined and stuck to her convictions to the end,” added Sheilagh. “She stuck by everything that she believed in.

“So she would have been delighted that my constituency MP Guy Opperman is taking up the issue in Parliament.”

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