Tag Archives: House of Lords

Reasons I’m against legalising assisted suicide

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.

Thank you for playing a crucial role in our Legal Aid campaign

Last December, Scope called on supporters to join our campaign to Save Legal Aid for disabled people.

The absence of this advice would have an adverse impact on thousands of disabled people who use legal aid to challenge decisions when they are let down by the system. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which has been making its way through Parliament, plans to remove legal aid support for those appealing welfare benefits decisions.

Thousands of campaigners, keen to protect the provision of legal aid for disabled people when appealing welfare benefits decisions, took their seat in Scope’s virtual House of Lords. By March, over 2,000 campaigners had taken part in our campaign, telling the Government the adverse consequences this would have for disabled people and helping to pile the pressure on Ministers to revise their plans.

This led to a real breakthrough when Lords from across all parties expressed their discontent with the Bill and defeated the Government’s plans by 237 votes to 198. This was a great success and was the culmination of the efforts shown by all campaigners. Together, we made sure the Lords understood the significance of this issue and forced the Government to think again about its plans.

On 17 April, when the Bill returned to the House of Commons, MPs once again debated the impact of removing legal aid for welfare benefits cases. This time, the Government listened to concerns that legal aid advice is needed for appealing incorrect benefits decisions although they would restrict the help available to just a small number of very complex benefits appeals. Although we welcome the Government moving on this issue, Scope had concerns about how this promise would practically work and how many disabled people it would reach, so we asked the House of Lords to push the Government to go further.

Disappointingly, on 25 April, the House of Lords voted against our amendment which would have kept legal aid advice for disabled people appealing incorrect welfare benefits decisions.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has now moved on to the next stage and is soon to become law, without the crucial change that we were campaigning for.

Although we are disappointed with this outcome, Scope will be doing all that we can to press the Government to make sure that the concessions that they have made are workable in practice and help as many disabled people as possible.

The support of our campaigners was invaluable in forcing the Government to open up legal aid to a number of welfare benefits appeals, as well as putting them under considerable pressure to make more money available for the advice organisations who provide disabled people with much needed general advice.

The fight is not yet over, and everyone at Scope would like to thank you once again for playing a crucial role in this campaign.

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Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill 2010-12

Scope’s call of Lords Help Us answered as Government is defeated

Members of the House of Lords once again gave the Government a further bloody nose over proposals to cut legal aid.

Peers are in the final stages of scrutinising the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which attempts to save £350 million by limiting the availability of legal aid. But so far the House of Lords is far from convinced.

Following three defeats on Monday night, the Government lost three more. Most significantly, the Lords voted to keep legal aid for people who need advice and support to appeal incorrect decisions about their benefits – most of these people are disabled.

This advice can be crucial in ensuring that disabled people receive the support to which they are entitled and, at a time of such a dramatic overhaul of the welfare benefits system, it is more important than ever before.

Scope and our supporters have been campaigning tirelessly on this issue – particularly calling on the Lords to save legal aid for disabled people in the innovative Lords Help Us campaign. And we were heard.

There were some particularly powerful speeches from Peers who demanded that the Government not take this vital advice away. Introducing the debate, Baroness Doocey said that “the decision to press ahead with the proposals… sends a very confused message to the disabled people that the Government have promised to protect.”

Lord Low added, “The proposal to remove legal aid for welfare benefits cases represents a triple whammy for disabled people”, while the Bishop of Exeter called on his own experience with his disabled daughter to call on the Government to save this legal advice, which gives “essential help to ensure that disabled people have access to the benefits and support to which they are entitled”.

This is a significant victory for campaigners, and we are now determined that the Government sits up and thinks about the impact that this Bill will have on disabled people.

However, the battle is far from over. The Bill will now return to the House of Commons where we can expect the Government to try to force through the changes. We saw the Government use ‘financial privilege’ to reject the changes that the House of Lords made to the Welfare Reform Bill, and we must work to keep up the pressure on MPs to make sure they realise how important this help and advice is to disabled people so that this not repeated.

We called upon Peers to help us save legal aid, and they did. Now we must ask MPs to finish the job.