The ‘right to die’ campaign received a huge boost last night when a former Cabinet minister revealed he had changed his mind after a deathbed encounter with his father.
Michael Forsyth, who was Scottish secretary under John Major, is speaking out on the eve of a key debate on the issue in the House of Lords.
The 67-year-old peer says that – despite having voted against the reform – he is switching sides because of his father John.
‘He had this horrible bladder cancer and was in a lot of pain,’ the peer says in an interview with the Daily Mail. ‘When I went to see him just before he died I said “I’m really sorry dad, that you are suffering”.’
Lord Forsyth, who is close to tears as he recalls the incident, adds: ‘He said to me “You’re to blame”. I was taken aback. I wasn’t expecting it and said “What do you mean?”
The ‘right to die’ campaign received a huge boost last night when former Cabinet minister Michael Forsyth (pictured) revealed he had changed his mind after a deathbed encounter with his father
‘He said “You have consistently voted against the right to die; and I want that; and I can’t get it and I’ve got this pain”. He wasn’t doing it in a nasty way. His view was “Look I’m in pain, I know what I’m doing, why should I be denied this right?”
‘I didn’t have an answer. He died within a week – it was the last time I saw him. That is why I have changed my mind.’
The Assisted Dying Bill, which would allow the terminally ill to legally seek assistance to end their lives, will have its second reading in parliament tomorrow.
If passed, it will enable adults who are of sound mind and have six months or less to live to be provided with life-ending medication with the approval of two doctors and a High Court judge.
Lord Forsyth recalls the traumatic events leading up to the exchange with his businessman father, who lived in Montrose.
‘He was at home, it was the weekend and he couldn’t get any morphine because the GP surgery was closed. He had to go all the way to hospital in Dundee 30 miles away to get a prescription,’ he says.
‘Then they had to find a pharmacist, but they could only provide a limited amount because of rules on controlled drugs.’
Distraught at his father’s inability to find relief from his excruciating pain, Lord Forsyth emailed Baroness Finlay, who is leading the attempt to stop assisted dying being made legal, to vent his frustration. This was the appalling ‘reality’ of preventing people like his father from the right to end their suffering, he told her. ‘She replied saying ‘This shouldn’t happen.’ Lord Forsyth fired back: ‘Too right it shouldn’t!’
Until recently, Lord Forsyth has been a powerful opponent of assisted dying, voting against it twice in the Lords. At one point Baroness Finlay asked him to lead the campaign; now he has ‘defected’ to the other side.
The 67-year-old peer says that – despite having voted against the reform – he is switching sides because of his father John (pictured)
Lord Forsyth says that when he rehearsed the case against ‘right to die’ with his dying father, saying it could lead to ‘families putting pressure on’ the elderly, disabled and terminally ill to end their lives prematurely, possibly for devious motives, his father brushed the arguments aside. He is now ‘persuaded’, he says, that the proposed legislation contains ‘safeguards and reasonable arrangements to ensure people know what they are committing themselves to and that it cannot be abused.’ Asked how his father would react if he were alive to witness his U-turn, he replies: ‘My dad was very direct. He’d be saying ‘It hasn’t helped me has it?’ Lord Forsyth says he now feels it is wrong to force the terminally ill who want to end their lives to go to the Dignitas clinic, where such medical procedures can be obtained.
It is unfair, he says, to ‘ask people to get on an aeroplane – with all the distress it brings to families – and spend a lot of money on going to Switzerland; people who are of sound mind and know what they want’.
He says: ‘Imagine if you have motor neurone disease and you know that eventually, you are going to suffocate.’
Lord Forsyth says it would also be ‘hypocrisy’ for him to carry on voting against the ‘right to die’ – because he would opt for it himself if he faced the same tragic predicament as his father, who died aged 88, last year.
He adds: ‘If, God forbid, I was diagnosed with some horrible wasting condition I would want a way out and I would find my way to Switzerland.’
Assisted dying is an idea ‘whose time has come,’ he says, and has increasing public support.
He is also highly critical of other methods of treating the terminally ill such as the now abolished Liverpool Care Pathway which involved withdrawing food, fluid and medication from a patient.
‘It basically starved people to death,’ he says.
Lord Forsyth stresses he had ‘huge admiration’ for those who care for people like his father and in 2010 he raised £400,000 for the Marie Curie hospice movement with an Arctic expedition.