CONSTITUENTS have sent me a whole stack of cards asking me to back legislation to legalise assisted suicide.

The Commons last debated this in the autumn of 2015 and the proposal was defeated by 330 votes to 118, which I thought was sufficiently overwhelming to settle the issue for quite a few years, but apparently not.

Attempting suicide used to be unlawful until 1961, since when we have the right to end our own lives if we choose. Someone else doing it for you however, remains a serious criminal offence.

I entirely understand the dreadful dilemma of those with terminal degenerative conditions who want to continue to live whilst there is some quality to life, but want the reassurance that, when the pain and indignity becomes unbearable, someone will be able to able to end it for them if by then they have lost the capability of doing it for themselves.

My concern however, is that if a convenient and accepted procedure and process becomes established for ending life, it will be a very short step from ‘choice’ to ‘expectation’. I fear that as elderly and vulnerable people become a greater burden to the healthcare system, their own finances, and their families, there will be ever so subtle, and not so subtle expressions of expectation that they will do ‘the decent thing’.

Clearly, going to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end one’s life is an expense and inconvenience that anyone, especially the terminally ill, would want to avoid. Given the awesome finality of what they are planning however, is it really too much to expect of them?

Nursing debate

THERE was a row in the Commons this week about the consequences of ending bursaries for under-graduates studying to become nurses. The government ended the Bursary scheme in 2017, enabling nursing students to take a student loan just as a student studying for any other degree might be expected to. The row was over the fact that in each of the two years since, applications for nursing degrees have fallen sharply (down 13 per cent this year).

I think the anger is misplaced. It seemed to me that the real scandal is that so many applicants for nursing were being turned away because there was a shortage of places on courses.

The savings from abolishing the bursary are being used to fund 25 per cent more training places.

So long as the number of well qualified applicants is still sufficient to fill all the places available, including the extra 25 per cent, (and they remain more than sufficient) then the number of nurses will increase, irrespective of the reduction in total number of applicants.

There may be another benefit: One of the strategic mistakes made by government in the nineteen nineties was to accept the Royal College of Nursing’s agenda for a ‘degree only’ nursing profession, and to abolish the status of the State Enrolled Nurse. This mistake accentuated the move to ‘high tech’ nursing and denied to the profession nurses whose primary role was just caring for patients rather than curing them. Sometimes anxious and vulnerable patients need not just to be ‘treated’ but to be spent time with, to be fed, or even just to have someone hold their hand.

The introduction of an entry to the profession through an apprenticeship which is part of the new scheme may, I hope, go some way to getting the balance right.