We must tread carefully along the path to assisted dying

I think the objective of the briefing was to stimulate an article on roughly the lines that you see before you: roughly, that is, but not exactly. Sometimes you begin a discussion with a general prejudice to agree with someone – and then, as the conversation goes on, you find yourself prey to misgivings.

The young woman from Dignity in Dying was charming and persuasive, but as we talked about the exact terms of the Bill, I started to worry that it might indeed pave the way for something unintended – something ugly and distressing: not exactly a culture of death, but a world in which it was simply too easy to opt for this state-approved self-extinction.

The problem lies in the first couple of paragraphs, where the Bill defines those who would be eligible to take the “medicine” (a euphemism if ever there was one) or to have it administered to them. They must be someone who has a terminal illness and who “as a consequence of that terminal illness is reasonably expected to die within six months”. Now I am sure that infinite care has gone into the drafting of that phrase, but it surely encompasses a potentially very wide group of people.

Many hundreds of thousands of people, old and young, find themselves living on with terminal illnesses – cancers and other afflictions – for a very long time; and obviously a great many will prefer life to the alternative. It goes without saying that many are capable of taking continuing interest and pleasure in their lives. But it is also true of those people that their conditions could deteriorate quite quickly – and that they could die within a relatively short space of time.

In other words, there are a large number of people whose deaths would not come as a huge surprise to a doctor – and who could therefore be described as people who could “reasonably be expected to die within six months”. I would like to see this language tightened up, so that the category of those who might be eligible for the “medicine” is not as broad as it currently seems. Surely it cannot be beyond the skills of the parliamentary draftsmen to amend the phrase slightly, so that assisted dying could be provided only to those who “could not reasonably be expected to survive more than six months”.

You may say there is not much difference between the two categories. I think the difference is very significant. It is the difference between the strong possibility of death within six months, and the overwhelming probability of death within six months. It is the difference between the category of those who could very well be claimed by the Reaper at any time within the next six months, and the category of those who are clearly not going to survive much longer. This change would restrict the number of those eligible for assisted dying – though obviously it would still greatly expand the possibilities for alleviating suffering at the end of our lives.

I think it right to be cautious, because we are proposing to make a very big change in our approach to death and dying: giving people much more of a right to choose when to die, and above all giving the state an obligation to help us consciously to do away with ourselves, if certain conditions are satisfied.

I am sure it is a change the public broadly supports, and one whose time has come. But life is precious and our psychology fragile. Those suffering terminal illnesses can easily find themselves under pressure – external or internal – to make decisions from which, obviously, there is no going back.

If we are going to take this step, we should make it a small one, and see how it goes. I would like to see the Falconer Bill apply not to all those who might well die in the next six months, but only to those whose lives are overwhelmingly likely to be very near the end.

Boris Johnson could be parachuted into safe Hertfordshire seat

However, if he did so, he would have to combine being an MP with continuing as Mayor of London until his term expires in May 2016.

If he returns to the Commons he will want to find a seat which is in easy rich of central London. The seat in Hertsmere would offer just that for Mr Johnson.

Mr Clappison, who has been an MP for 23 years, is a well-regarded member of the Home Affairs select committee and the European Scrutiny committee.

In a letter to Mr Cameron, Mr Clappison said: “It is difficult letting go but I do feel now is the time to move on. There is a world elsewhere.”

Separately, Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove and Portslade and one of the intake at the 2010 general election, also said he was quitting as an MP next year.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Weatherley said he was leaving for personal reasons, stating that “beating cancer two years ago”.

He said: “Beating cancer two years ago has led me to review what I want for the future. It has been the toughest decision of my life but I do feel that now is the time to move on.”

Boris takes to the air to defend cable car

To celebrate the first anniversary of Ask Boris, Boris Johnson’s monthly LBC show, the Mayor and presenter Nick Ferrari broadcast from high above the Thames on the Emirates Airline.

“It is cheap as chips,” Mr Johson responded when asked how much a cash single fare would set a passenger back.

“I think it’s very good value for money, this is the most beautiful view in the whole of the city, I think it’s absolutely stupefying. Earth hath not anything to show more fair,” he said before pointing out landmarks including “the Walkie Talkie with its Aztec death ray.”

A single cash fare is £4.40.