Baroness Finlay puts life before death

Written by Zakiya Patel
Edited by Anthony Figueroa

A licensed doctor and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Finlay has successfully stitched together issues of medicine and politics by dedicating herself to improving care for the terminally ill. It is for this reason she has been awarded the Grassroot Diplomat Honouree for Palliative Care and Organ Donor Option.  

As a junior doctor in the 1970’s, the plight of dying patients made such an impact that Baroness Finlay took it upon herself to learn more about providing end-of-life care, eventually becoming the first consultant in Wales and setting up the Marie Curie hospice in Cardiff. As a peer, she successfully worked on the tobacco control legislation and initiated private member’s legislation to presume consent for kidney donation, facilitating the Welsh opt-out organ legislation. Her proudest single-handed achievement, however, was “the re-instatement of the Chief Coroner to ensure that the bereaved saw justice done when there is an element of uncertainty around a death”.  

Her unwavering dedication to such changes is spurred by her belief in legislative improvements to patient care: “All legislation can have implications for many in society. The unintended consequences and possibilities of ‘mission creep’ are often hidden aspects to a Bill…The law must protect the vulnerable from harm”.

The perseverance of Baroness Finlay in the medical field highlights the importance of specialist professionals in politics. She notes that whilst other politicians might have great ideas, they might also “lack the detailed knowledge to be able to see where policy may sound good in practice, but just won’t work”, whereas “those with experience of prisons, policing, family law, schools and universities, and many other walks of life, bring their expertise to debates and are able to question Government in a way that someone without first-hand knowledge could not”. By working with those directly affected by legislation, she is further able to identify problems at the grass roots and lead changes.  

As well as bringing to light problems within medical healthcare in government, Baroness Finlay wants more people to engage in these issues. As she put it, “[we] need to have more open realistic conversations about what medicine can and can’t do, [and] link to what patients and their families need. When that happens, the groundswell will move the direction of political travel.” She does, however, accept that ordinary citizens can sometimes feel passive and disempowered. To combat this, she insists that every person “remember that you can do something”.  

By winning the Grassroot Diplomat Award, Baroness Finlay hopes to be recognised by others, open doors and bring about change. As such, a “stamp of credibility” is a very important tool. “I have always tried to bring about change from the grassroots up - if people don’t own change, it isn’t sustainable. Those on the frontline, at the grassroots in fact, have valuable insights that can inform the way improvements should be brought in”. Her valuable and unique insights into the world of patient care have made profound impacts on healthcare. In addition, it has also prompted debate within our society on topics such as energy consumption and drunk driving. By utilising her knowledge of grassroot issues, Baroness Finlay will continue impacting legislation in the area of patient care and medicine, bringing to light issues that many others, through no fault their own, might not know even existed.

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