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Making assisted suicide more accessible?! / 16 June 2011

A non-disabled friend of mine expressed suprise that not only was I unwilling to help him ensure that assisted suicide would be made fully accessible to disabled people, but that I was also very much against the idea of assisted suicide being made legal in the first place!

Recently retired from a life in the medical profession, John is now serving in a voluntary capacity on a panel set up to  address the issue of making assisted suicide legal. In his - in other areas commendable - awareness of disability equality he wanted to make sure that assisted suicide would be equally accessible to disabled people and he wondered if I would be able to help him think through some of the associated issues.

It became clear as I started to explain my position on this subject, that he hadn't considered there would be people vehemently opposed to the whole concept of helping someone commit suicide. His rational medical mind had seen it purely as a way of helping people who were too ill to continue living, and who had made a decision when they'd been able to do so, to obtain assistance to end their life in a dignified and peaceful manner.

Part of his argument was that it was something that was already happening; doctors and other medical staff assisting a patient to end there life by witholding treatment or by increasing the dosage of pain killers. Making it legal would mean that there would be controls put into place and that medical professionals wouldn't be able to randomly end someone's life as they saw fit.

I started to explain that disabled people in particular were adamantly opposed to assisted suicide becoming legal because this would inevitably mean that a medical professional would have the power of life or death over a disabled patient, and that it would inevitably lead to pressure - however subtle - being put on people who felt that they were becoming a "burden".

I told John about disabled activist Jane Campbell, in the forefront of the 'Not Dead Yet' campaign who had woken in a hospital bed to hear a doctor discussing whether or not they should place a 'do not resuscitate' notice in her medical notes. And this had taken place without any prior discussion between Jane or her family ...

He replied that this was exactly why legislation was needed. If there was a legal framework around such medical intervention, Jane would have had to have been consulted before any discussion about this took place. I pointed out to him that current legislation already protected Jane's rights in this way and that by making assisted suicide legal this could undermine those rights.

My medical friend - a good, thoughtful and thorough man - was none the less unaware of the groups of disabled people who were campaigning against legislation or of the arguments that we are putting forward against it. From listening to him it seemed that the panel had proceeded with the assumption that making assisted suicide legal was not only a positive thing but was also in the best interests of everybody. I think he was suprised to learn that there were so many people against the idea, despite the recent 'End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill' by Margo Macdonald suffering an overwhelming defeat by a 85-16 margin last November because MSPs were convinced that its ‘safeguards’ were not safe.

I concluded our discussion by suggesting that perhaps people would not see assisted suicide as the only option if support services for people at all stages of their lives (and death) were adequate and appropriate.

I've offered to give my friend some information compiled by disabled people who are against legislation being passed and to provide him with the contact details of those people who would be prepared to discuss the issues with him. If you have something to say on the subject, please leave your comment in the following section and I'll make sure that it is forwarded. Thanks.

Other blogs
There are currently several other sites covering this subject. Here are the links for a few of these.
Click here for the Scope article
Click here for the 'Not Dead Yet' article
Click here for the Disabled People Fight Back blog
Click here for the Face Book page for Mental Health & the Wider Disabled People's Movement
Click here for the London School of Economics blog

 

 

Keywords: assisted suicide,disabled peoples movement,disabled peoples protest,equality,medication

Comments

Susan Fitzmaurice

/
25 June 2011

I have a friend who is disabled and lives in Germany. Her family has incurred extensive expenses to give her the life she needs to live fully. They are heavily in debt. She was approached by a "friend" who has a long term medical problem but would be greatly assisted by a transplant. She suggested they take a trip to Switzerland together imagining the possibility of a quick assisted suicide followed by her getting her heart. In return this friend was going to wipe her family's debts clean.

It never went further than discussion because my friend values her disabled life. But what of others? How many people might consider this proposition?

In Michigan/USA, Jack Kevorkian believed assisted suicide would be an ethical means of doing medical research and organ donation. He was stymied by a law that refused to see it as ethical to offer a person committed to life in prison or would most like die an early death from disability the opportunity to offer their lives to others for payment.

Since he couldn't do this, he invented a suicide machine and offered his services to people who wanted to die. He presented himself as a doctor, but he was trained as a medical examiner and never actually treated live patients. The majority of people he helped to die where not terminally ill or in physical pain, but instead were severely depressed by the situation (disability) they found them self in.

In Oregon/USA, where physician assisted suicide has been legalized, "Physicians have consistently reported that concerns about loss of autonomy, loss of dignity, and decreased ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable as important motivating factors in patient requests for lethal medication across all eight years." http://euthanasia.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000199

When a nondisabled, healthy person wants to commit suicide we think it is wrong and go to great lengths to provide them services and get them back on track to valuing their life again.

Why is it seemingly OK with so many nondisabled people that it is OK to let a disabled person sink into depression and help them to die? Why aren't they afforded the same response?

Colin Hambrook

/
23 June 2011

Well the cartoon certainly pulls no punches, but goes to the heart of how a lot of disabled people feel whose voice doesn't get an airing in the media. A lot of us are scared that rights to live could be taken away without consideration for how we feel about it. It was pretty shocking in the debate that was aired on Newsnight that the doctor from Dignitas admitted herself that she thought the chap whose death was filmed in the Terry Pratchett documentary died "too soon."

Sammy

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21 June 2011

Crass?! I don't think that Crippen could be crass if he tried. And what is it about the blog that you consider to be inconsidered Marian? Having reread it I can only agree with a lot of what he says.

Sheila

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21 June 2011

I don't think terms like 'crass' and 'inconsidered' are in anyway helpful to the debate Marian. I don't always agree with Crippen's views but in this case he has hit the nail on the head for a lot of us disabled people. For me his cartoon highlights the depths into which this bloody government will sink when viewing us as 'useless eaters' and searching for a solution!

Arty Farty

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21 June 2011

Nothing like a bit of constructive criticism eh Mr C?!

marian

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20 June 2011

Crippen. Your cartoon is uncharacteristically crass. This is a complex debate. I actually find your representation of it in the cartoon offensive and your blog less than considered. Sorry. Just saying what I feel. Which is basically how the debate is being formed. Through feelings. Let's have a think. There are lots of people out there who want this. Surely we could sign up or not?

Angie

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18 June 2011

I had a great aunt that I was caring for with my little cousin and she requested me to give her tablets for pain as she could not talk, move and only gestured with her eyes for me to give her the lot to end it all.

After a few weeks she came out of the stroke but had developed pneumonia so was in hospital.Her speech was back and she thanked me for NOT giving her the tablets.

I asked why had she changed her mind? She replied I can see my husband, mum and brother there in the corner waiting for me.

she did not see them that day and felt that she had no reassurance of life after death but now in her last dying days she saw the sign that she was to die soon.

I was in awe of this experience and from that day to this I have tried to stop people committing suicide.

I worked at the Samaritans for a few years and found that the impulse to kill yourself is momentary and after people talk for ours to volunteers, this impulse goes as a new outlook is found to their lives.

Many phone back and all the volunteers were reassured their work is worthwhile as people said they were glad they did not end it and only with the help of the Samaritans could they see a way out of their destructive thoughts.

I am not religious but spiritual and I believe your time is set by the higher entity and should be left to fate for death to happen.

No one should take their own life as in my opinion your transition to the other realm will be disrupted if you do kill yourself.

Isn't it in the bible that if you kill yourself before your allotted time, you will go to Purgatory?

Life is precious and for it to be taken by doctors, relatives is not the way to go.

Please everyone try and stop this euthanasia band wagon as it is just so wrong!

Crippen

/
18 June 2011

Great feedback folks with a special thanks to Lynn for sharing her experiences! x

gayrobot

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18 June 2011

There have been numerous reports of death by sedation and dehydration in our own hospitals, notably in the Daily Telegraph. It's called the Liverpool Care Pathway. (Care, indeed!) Here's a link to just one of the many reports:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/6613732/Fighting-for-a-peaceful-pain-free-death.html

We're living in a culture in which old people, vulnerable people, people with impairmnents, are devalorised & regarded as disposable. And things will get worse with more government-sanctioned propaganda such as the BBC's recent programme.

Lynn Harrison

/
16 June 2011

Well! Lots of debate online if little real debate has been allowed via the Beeb!

One of the things that has struck me is that due to the lack of balance the Pratchett programme appears to have been successful as a pro-euthanisia campaign precisely because it appears on the BBC which many people trust as The Repository of Truth and Reason, many non-disabled people I have debated with seem, as a consequence, to view an existence as someone with impairments or chronic, life-limiting conditions as being Less Than 'normal' and I feel this is dangerous, but then, as Laurie Penny writes in The New Statesman, with all the cuts in services and threats to disabled people's already limited income with hate crimes up against disabled people labelled as 'scroungers', as she writes: "We need no longer fear a world where society and the state cannot be bothered to expend time and money looking after the sick, the dying, and the unprofitable. We are already living in that world."

It has felt frustrating trying to argue the case against assisted suicide with non-disabled people who are uninformed about the issues we face, as this discussion I had on Faceboook shows:

Me: "I think it is very scary as the Beeb presented a very biased programme with no disabled people giving their views other than Liz Carr, and, so, I found myself arguing against assisted suicide elsewhere with people who had taken the pro-suic...ide arguments as 'perfectly reasonable', such is the power of the media, especially the BBC. I was accused for 'not being representative of all disabled people', being 'selfish', having to justify how I might be 'personally affected', and people saying that my friends who had sadly died having taken their own lives because of a lack of mental health service support, would have been better dying at Dignitas where they would not have had to die alone, unbelievable"

A: " Sounds like you would only have been happy with a programme slagging off assisted suicides, Lynn. The case for allowing those who wish to take that option (not those who don't) is overwhelming, as we have discussed on my thread. Why should Terry Pratchett not be allowed to make a programme to express his views?"

Me: "did you not read anything I posted on this subject or watch Newsnight with Liz Carr? I would have been happy if the Beeb wasn't pushing this propaganda tbh and if it genuinely wanted to air this debate had presented a balanced programme, which maybe would have raised questions you may not have thought of instead of taking the Beeb and Pratchett as the authoritative perpective on this issue"

A: " There are many programmes the Beeb make with which I disagree, and which represent the views of the film makers. I believe in freedom of speech and do not deny them that right. It sounds like you would prefer Pratchett's freedom to make a programme you happen to disagree with to be quashed?"

Me:" The Beeb has given him a largely unopposed platform, this is the problem, there are many reasons why the majority of disabled people feel very alarmed by this but we are not being given a chance to express our views on national media

A: " And on other occasions the Beeb has made programmes expressing the opposite point of view, not to mention the ensuing debates in which opponents of assisted suicide get their opportunity to speak. I repeat, this is no threat to anyone who chooses to go down that route, and your views are not necessarily those of all disabled people anyway. They are your personal views."

Me: "I think you may find I'm not the only one with these views has the Beeb given attention to the other side of the debate??? really??? I think I and others would be aware of this if it had"

A: " No, but you have no basis for saying you speak on behalf of all "disabled people" when plainly you don't!

Me:" Take a look at what DAN is saying for example, or, Clair Lewis, or Crippen Disabled Cartoonist and consider the support from the disabled people's movement that the opposing view has and maybe give some creedance to their opionions instead of trying to insist that I am just one individual in opposition, A, I didn't say that I spoke for all disabled people, it was you and your friend that accused me of that

A:"you made a bland assertion that all disabled groups - and by association all disabled people - are opposed to assisted suicide. You spoke on their behalf without any basis for your statement."

Aaargh! Like trying to walk through Treacle! Thanks very much BBC! (NOT!)

rich

/
16 June 2011

reminds me of a time i wrote an humourous column for our newsletter on wheelchair users campaigning to make suicide bridge (archway bridge, archway road, london) accessible to all. the local paper didn't get the humour and repeated the story as if it were true. they failed to name me, quote me, credit me or pay me.

Seems to me there's a lot of people standing to profit from this, which we should encourage as a means to extending our true purpose on earth - enriching the grafters who have to have new options for profiting from us now that care homes are in such trouble. Poor dears.

Asiya

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16 June 2011

Hello!

Thanks for a very interesting post. I work at the London School of Economics and maintain this blog - http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/diversity/. I was wondering whether we can reproduce this cartoon on the blog to generate a bit of debate on this issue? We would of course copyright it to you.

You can mail me at a.islam1@lse.ac.uk

Thanks,

Asiya

Judie McConway

/
16 June 2011

If I become terminally ill, and unable to end my own life which has become intolerable, I cannot afford to fly to Switzerland, and would feel guilty pressing a family member to help me to die, do I have to linger in a hospital ward, gradually and painfully dying because there is no one professionally qualified or even allowed to assist me?

I am a coward I know, but would hope that something would be in place to end the pain, when I want it to stop, whilst I can still say goodbye to family and friends in a manner that they will recognise as being me.

Not a wholesale one size fits all, as Hazel has pointed out, because obviously it doesn't.

I watched the long drawn out process of my mother dying doped up with morphine when I was 15 years old, and my father's tortured life with emphysema and diabetes (I have both).

I understand also the concerns of many disabled people, who quite rightly worry about coercion not only only of disabled people, but people with dementia, and older people too.

I do not have any suggestions or answers with which to inform the debate, I can't speak for anybody else, only myself, but it is something I have worried about since being a young person, how not to die like my mother.

Hazel

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16 June 2011

SOMETIMES there is a BIG difference between disability and illness. That's perhaps where the disparity comes in between the desire to die or live. It has been proven that when peoples' human rights are observed then the desire/action to commit suicide reduces so BOTTOM LINE support must be in place for anyone in need.

I have personally experienced what happens when there is no support (dying is the better option) and limited support (wow, I can keep going somehow) but that is only my case.

I am not myself having to deal with any form of dementia and do not know how I would react in that case. I have been asked by others to help them die (I took other courses to help them)and have prevented others from dying.

In this no one size fits all. Each case is different but NO euthenasia programme should be in place. SUPPORT is the answer and that is being eroded right now.

Crippen

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16 June 2011

Thanks for the comments folks. Please keep them coming. Regarding Jenny's comment. I've also been reading about the similarities between pre-war Germany and what's happening in this country at the moment. Here's the link to an article about this if you're interested - http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m6875/is_1_18/ai_n25052599/

Jenny Conway ia email

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16 June 2011

I know that we keep being criticised for trotting out the similarities between now and Nazi Germany, and the course that the introduction of assisted suicide took then. But it is worth remembering that Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist who gave evidence at Nuremberg in 1949 said that ‘its beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick, identified as 'useless eaters'. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted, and finally all non-Germans. The Nazi holocaust began in 1939 with the killing of 6,000 disabled children and 70,000 patients in geriatric and psychiatric institutions.'

John Mc

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16 June 2011

Was anyone else aware that dozens of disabled children having been killed under something called the Groningen Protocol in the Netherlands despite the fact that this is illegal. In 2005 two physicians practicing in the Netherlands published in The New England Journal of Medicine a set of guidelines for what they called infant ''euthanasia.'' The authors named their guidelines the Groningen protocol, after the city where they work. One of the physicians, Dr. Eduard Verhagen, has admitted to presiding over the killing of four disabled babies in the last three years, by means of a lethal intravenous drip of morphine and midazolam (a sleeping agent). While Verhagen's actions were illegal under Dutch law, he hasn't been prosecuted for them; and if his guidelines were to be accepted, they could establish a legal basis for his death-administering work. More information by cutting and pasting this url - http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/10/magazine/10WWLN.html

Sally

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16 June 2011

The suggestion that assisted suicide is a quick, pain free and peaceful way to die is contradicted by figures released from the Netherlands. In 2007 approximately 10% of all deaths in the Netherlands were connected to the practice of terminal sedation. Many of those deaths were caused by dehydration, by the physician sedating the patient and then withholding hydration until death occurs, which usually takes 10 - 14 days.

Dave Lupton

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16 June 2011

Whilst researching this blog I came across some alarming facts: Belgium is one of four countries in the EU where assisted suicide is legal. However, a recent study found that in the Flemish part of Belgium, 66 of 208 cases of ‘euthanasia’ (32%) occurred in the absence of request or consent. Also, nearly half of all cases of euthanasia are not reported to the Belgium Federal Control and Evaluation Committee.

Legal requirements were more frequently not met in unreported cases than in reported cases and a written request for euthanasia was absent in 88%. Use this link to read the full article - http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index.ssf/2009/09/assisted_suicide_rate_continue.html