A new Assisted Dying Bill is due to be considered by the House of Lords.
It’s prompted lots of debate – including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Lord Falconer on Radio 4’s Any Questions.
Scope’s Chair, Dr Alice Maynard, explains why she is against a change in law.
1. A change in the law sends a message to disabled people that their lives are not worth living.
Why is it that when people who are not disabled want to commit suicide, we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide, we focus on how we can make that possible?
I think it stems from a deep-seated belief that the lives of sick and disabled people are not worth as much as other people’s.
You only have to read the news to see that disabled people are still viewed by some as a burden on society and the economy – even by those in elected office.
People may well look at me, as someone with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and think that my life must be dreadful. But I love my life and I’ve achieved a lot.
My concern is what happens when people have the chance to act on these views. I don’t want disabled people, or others such as older people, to become vulnerable to pressure from their families, health professionals, or from society, to end their lives to stop “being a burden”. The current law gives us protection. We shouldn’t change it on the basis of a few understandably heart-breaking cases.
2. It not just about ‘terminal illness’ – it’s about disability
Of course it is about disability. Why is the person at the end of the Dignity in Dying campaign video disabled? Why did Lord Falconer poll disabled people to ask them what they thought if it’s not about them?
This Bill is all about looking at disabled people and saying ‘I’d rather be dead than be like you’. Disabled people hear this all the time – including me.
Lord Falconer even conceded three years ago that assisted suicide should not be offered to disabled people ‘at this point in time’.
Even now, who decides what is terminal? The line between a disabled person whose life-expectancy is shortened and someone with a terminal illness can often be blurred. Prognoses change, people’s circumstances change, and it is notoriously difficult to predict how long someone has to live.
3. International experience shows disabled people who are not terminally ill are using the legislation to end their lives.
Lord Falconer’s Bill is based on the one they use in Oregon, USA. There, 40% of those requesting to end their life do so because they feel a burden on friends and family.
I’ve met people who have experienced very serious accidents, and who begged to be allowed to die because their lives were changed beyond all recognition. Now they are really glad to be here. I worry that a change in the law would lead to people making the biggest decision they can make, when they aren’t in the right frame of mind.
Mental capacity can be affected by all kinds of things, including depression – which often accompanies serious physical illness- and the effect of medication. How can we make sure that the right safeguards are in place to stop people making a decision, when they don’t really have the right information and experience to understand the possibilities?
The key part of the Bill makes no reference to mental health. It would allow disabled people who have mental health problems or who are depressed to end their lives.
Doctors are against it; disability charities are against it; older people charities are against it; palliative care experts are against it. The experts say this is a bad idea.
4. Disabled people want help to live, not to die
I’ve had discussions with disabled people who want assisted suicide to be legalised, because they worry that they won’t get the support that they need when they get older. That shouldn’t be a deciding factor in ending your life.
Disabled people have experienced massive cuts to their support in recent years, leading to many feeling isolated, and unable to even get up and out of the house.
Rather than helping people to end their life, we should be making sure that the system supports disabled people to live their lives to the full, so they have a future worth living for.