Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill will have its second reading in the House of Lords today. The laws concerning assisted dying are extremely complex and emotive issues, and there are strongly held ethical and moral arguments on both sides. This means there needs to be an honest and open debate on these issues, and I really valued the contribution of one of my constituents who wrote to me on the topic this week;
As the Lords consider the controversial Assisted Suicide bill tabled by Lord Falconer today, how balanced a debate and informed are our Lords and Bishops who are about to preside over such a momentous shift in medical care.
On Saturday the former archbishop Lord Carey came out in favor of assisted suicide, an opinion that contradicts the official line of the Church of England who have continued to oppose such a measure from the offset. The 24 hours that followed saw a barrage of headlines, interviews and reports on the news channels and media covering the views and opinions from different corners on both sides of the argument.
Noted by their absence were the views of disabled people, a large body of whom have vehemently opposed the introduction of any form assisted dying legislation. Disabled people have rallied round and, among other things, created groups such as the ‘Not Dead Yet’ campaign to air their voices and put across their views. However, the opinions of the disabled community seem to be getting lost in the furor and the voices of the individual who this bill is most likely to affect is not being heard.
A mere sheet of tissue paper could be used to represent the gap between illness and disability and even so, when it comes to more severe conditions, the gap is probably not there at all. The late Margo MacDonald MSP in her final attempt to pass a bill through the Scottish Parliament said ‘it has nothing to do with disabled people’. Given that this bill will inevitably affect thousands of disabled people throughout Britain, surely it has everything to do with disability.
Earlier this year the Belgium government, who have had assisted suicide legislation for 12 years, voted to extend the legal right to assisted dying to terminally ill and disabled children. Those who claim that the introduction of this kind of legislation in Britain would not be the first steps down a very rocky moral road need only look at the Belgian example.
If Britain were to make assisted dying legal, what message would this give out as to how disability is viewed and accepted in this country? Does it mean that the lives of disabled people are in someway second rate or of less value then other peoples?
Thousands of disabled people live valuable and productive lives given the right support and, rather than considering how we can help people to end their lives, we ought be looking at the support society can give them to reach full potential and fulfillment. The living standards of disabled people are being slowly eroded thanks to the continued cuts to welfare and vital services that thousands of disabled people rely on in order to maintain independence and live their lives. Rather than going to the extent of offering disabled and terminally ill people the right to die, society ought offer them the right support to live.
Whatever way the votes goes on Friday, it is hoped that the opinions, rights and aspirations of disabled people will be heard by everyone and the media will fulfill their obligation by presenting a balanced and proportionate debate. When thinking about a persons quality of life we should not thinking about how to end the life, but rather how to support, care and empower people rather that how to help them dye. There can be nothing less dignified than delivering a lethal injection to end someone’s life who we, as a society, have failed to make worth and of value.