The House of Lords is debating proposals to make it legal for doctors to supply lethal drugs to some terminally ill people, in order for them to kill themselves.
Scope – along with the Prime Minister, disabled activists, doctors, lawyers, older people’s charities and national newspapers – is opposed to what would be a major change in the law.
1. People are understandably scared of being disabled or having a terminal condition – let’s address that fear, not encourage people to act on it
It’s understandable that people fear being disabled and dying for themselves or their loved ones.
But Scope Chair Alice Maynard recently urged supporters of assisted dying to stop ‘painting such a terrifying future of pain and suffering’ when it comes to being disabled or having a life-limiting condition.
Recent polling show two-thirds (65%) of disabled people said that people tend to assume that you don’t have a good quality of life if you are disabled.
Scope believes we should focus more on challenging these assumptions about disability, not reinforcing them. As Alice said: “We believe our lives to be full and worth hanging on to”.
At the same time, changing the law takes away the protection disabled people have against these attitudes turning into something worse, and coming under pressure to end their lives from other people.
2. The safeguards in the bill are inadequate
Firstly the definition of who could be included is broad. The bill refers to people who could be ‘reasonably expected to die’ within six months. This definition is much vaguer than it sounds, and would include many disabled people who in fact have lived fulfilling lives for many years.
The Bill also fails to acknowledge the negative assumptions that people make about their own quality of life when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness or disability. These feelings of depression and despair can change over time. People need support to come to terms with these feelings, rather than help to end their lives.
Baroness Jane Campbell, who has a progressive disability, recently told the Today Programme: “My fears about this Bill are because, unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s safe in any degree. I’ve looked at all the safeguards. I’ve been given six months to live probably about five times in my life – the last time a few years ago. It didn’t happen… It’s difficult, if not impossible, to predict when you’re going to die. I have to have absolute faith that my doctors will be there for me, that they will not give up on me and that they will not think the best thing they can do is help me to die.”
3. International experience shows that legislation of this kind is being used for reasons other than pain and by disabled people who are not terminally ill as well as other categories of people
Lord Falconer’s Bill is based on the system in place in Oregon, USA. There, 40% of those requesting to end their life do so because they feel a burden on friends and family – nothing to do with being in pain. In Washington State, where assisted suicide is legal for those who are terminally ill, 61 per cent of all those given lethal drugs to end their lives listed feeling a burden on family, friends or care-givers as one of the reasons for wanting to die.
In Belgium, the assisted suicide law was extended recently allowing euthanasia for children. A Dutch ethicist recently said: ‘Don’t go there’. He wrote that recent developments in Holland include “a shift in the type of patients who receive these ‘treatments’”. He said: “Whereas in the first years after 2002 hardly any patients with psychiatric illnesses or dementia appear in reports, these numbers are now sharply on the rise. Cases have been reported in which a large part of the suffering of those given euthanasia or assisted suicide consisted in being aged, lonely or bereaved. Some of these patients could have lived for years or decades.”
The majority of disabled people are concerned about a change in the law. Find out more about the latest research Scope has conducted into the views of disabled people on assisted suicide.