Corrie suicide doesn’t tell us anything about the law and guidance on assisted suicide

Post from Alice Maynard, Chair of Scope

Alice MaynardWhy 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.

5 thoughts on “Corrie suicide doesn’t tell us anything about the law and guidance on assisted suicide”

  1. As always from Ms Maynard an insightful intelligent view well expressed and informative. Thank you Alice.

  2. Hello, Alice. I appreciate the essential point you make and share your concern. However, ignoring, in your argument, as a separable group, those who have a terminal illness, many of whose symptoms cannot be ameliorated to allow them a quality of life that they wish to lead in their final days weakens all that you say, in my opinion.

    The right-to-die legislation is about assisting that group & I find it very difficult to support a position that forces such people who are of sound intellect & speaking from a uniquely personal perspective to suffer more than they feel able. I further do not see how it is right that you, I or the law should force them to do so when, in today’s era, there are other options available to them. I think it barbaric of us as a society to witness the ordeals of those like Tony Nicklinson. Does not our human compassion extend to people in his position too or must they, as individuals, suffer in a manner never faced by most of us?

    I am deeply uncomfortable with the slippery slope arguments relating to RTD legislation and do agree that, given society’s attitudes to disability generally, the concerns you express are very real but surely it should not be beyond us to take under consideration both groups potentially affected here and develop legislation that works for both.

    My own preference would be a ‘no’ right to die but with a clause for court appeal allowing exemption under the tightly defined exceptional circumstances. Given the numbers who actually do want to die when it is becomes a reality, we should be capable of this.

    It is impossible for most of us to understand how precious life becomes until it is definably finite thus many able bodied, non-ill, people imagine they’d want to die when in reality they probably wouldn’t. So, yes, protect us from their lack of awareness & fear but, also, let us acknowledge & support the few who have reached the point of ‘enough’ in good faith. This is not the equivalent of an able/physically healthy person’s suicide but a considered & very personal decision for some. Let us hope we know not that choice. Best,

    Elle 🙂

  3. I’m pleased to see Alice and Scope engage in the debate of a very important issue but unfortunately; this blog has reinforced common misconceptions that fail to bear out the facts of this issue or Lord Falconer’s proposed new law (Assisted Dying Bill).
    People can confuse the terms assisted suicide and assisted dying, easily done but they actually refer to two very different sets of circumstances. Assisted suicide would include those who are not dying, such as disabled people and those who are chronically ill, whereas assisted dying would only afford the choice to terminally ill, mentally competent dying adults who have been found by two doctors to have less than 6 months to live.

    Support for a new law that would only apply to terminally ill people has long had significant public support, with the latest polling by The Sun showing an overwhelming majority of 73% supporting assisted dying.
    You might think support by disabled people would be much reduced with many opposing greater rights for terminally ill people, for the fears set out by Alice, but recent polling by YouGov shows that 79% of disabled people support a change in the law to allow the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults within strict legal safeguards.
    A majority of disabled people continue to support a new law because they see the extension of dying people’s rights at the end of their lives coming at no threat to our own rights of equality and quality of life as disabled people.

    Disabled Activists for Dignity in Dying ( which is led by disabled people and which I co-ordinate, actively supports greater equality and opportunities for all disabled people and understands how our shared experiences of tackling the many barriers and discrimination in our daily lives puts us in a unique position to empathise with the very limited choice and lack of control being experienced by terminally ill people who are close to their imminent and inevitable deaths. Our support is for their right to die as they wish, not to violate our right to live.

    In May, politicians will be presented with the opportunity to bring in a new law for terminally ill dying people. Story-lines like that one in Coronation Street do illustrate how the current law is broken; you can’t be assisted to die in the UK, you need money to travel abroad or you feel the need to undertake very sad alternatives at home, much sooner than you may want to. I hope politicians join with the public, including disabled people, in wanting to act against the suffering and lack of choice currently available for some dying people.

  4. I think it is all about the freedom of choice. I have the choice to commit suicide right now. Why should a disability (eg like in the case of Tony Nicklinson) prevent me from exercising that right?

    We already decide that some lives are not worth living. Anybody who has ever had pets, probably ended up putting them down to spare them the suffering of terminal illnesses. Why not extend that courtesy to people, too? What right do we have to say to a person who wants to die that they have to bear the pain and indignity and despair?

    I think this issue is in many ways similar to abortion. There are many arguments against it: concerns about women being made to undergo it, religious condemnation, pro-life campaigns, etc.

    However, it comes back to the basic fact – you might not want to or have to subject yourself to it but you should still have the right to do it. My body, my choice.

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