Post from Alice Maynard, Chair of Scope
Why is it when someone who is not disabled wants to commit suicide we try to talk them out of it and offer them support, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide we focus on how we can make that possible? That’s the question that’s been on my mind the last few days.
This week news broke of the story-line in Coronation Street about Hayley Cropper – a long standing character who has pancreatic cancer and is terminally ill. It’s compelling and heart-breaking. It’s sparked much discussion about dying. Something we don’t do enough. Unfortunately that debate has been seized on by campaigners – led by Lord Falconer – who want to legalise assisted suicide. First, let’s be clear: the issues raised in the soap – the character is taking her own life without the help of her husband – don’t tell us anything about the law and guidance on assisted suicide.
What the storyline should remind us is that death is very much final; death is terminal. And this is why I am completely against any change in the law on assisted suicide. The campaign to legalise assisted suicide completely turns on its head the accepted approach of supporting someone if they feel suicidal. It ignores the fact that circumstances can change, pain can be managed, limited life can be discovered to be worth living.
The campaign instead feeds on the view that some lives just aren’t worth living. It plays into negative attitudes about disability that stubbornly refuse to be consigned to history. You don’t need to look very far for attitudes such as this. A Cornwall councillor last year said disabled children should be put down. Even some medical and social care professionals make negative assumptions about disabled people’s quality of life.
For disabled people the current law on assisted suicide sends a really powerful message that these kind of negative attitudes are not acceptable. But more than that they are a safeguard from anyone acting on those attitudes and turning them into something much worse
Legalising assisted suicide would mean the most fundamental of human right of disabled people like myself – the right to life – being violated. The campaigners argue that safeguards can be put in place. But these are completely inadequate.
In May politicians will again debate changing the law. Previous bills have been rightly rejected. I hope they will reject this one too. And I hope the public will similarly reject the bid by campaigners to hi-jack an insightful and valuable soap story-line.