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.
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