Oh how can good people get so confused? I am filled with dismay as I hear yet another celebrity adding their name to the pressure to legalise ‘Assisted Suicide'. They think they are furthering the cause of choice for vulnerable people. They think they are protecting the people who love them and want to help end their suffering. They think they are going to avoid some horrible experience of ‘unbearable suffering' themselves when their time comes. This is all the voice of fear and self interest speaking.
It is a popular view which seems to be oblivious of the reality for many sick, elderly or disabled people. To put it bluntly, we are not wanted. We are not wanted by a society which bases its values in productivity, competition and greed. Ask any mother of a disabled child if they feel the world treats their child as an equal.
Remember that to get born at all a disabled child has to survive the State's pre-natal screening process, usually by mistake or parental decision in the face of the advice to terminate. We live our lives struggling to be included, fighting for the support we need, campaigning constantly for basic rights.
Those few people who have loving relatives able to contemplate supporting their loved one to die are not the ones for whom the laws of our country should be directed. They should be directed at the thousands of people with disabilities, learning difficulties, chronic illnesses or just simply old and alone in hospital, abused and neglected, labelled as burdens, seen as wasting resources - Hitlers ‘Useless Eaters'. These are the people for whom we must hold a line as strong as steel that will defend their right to live and be treated well until they naturally die. Once we cross over the line that will condone the taking of a life by another then we have gone past the point of no return as human beings.
The shocking things we do to each other - genocide, wars, institutionalisation, the holocaust, all begin with small steps, tiny changes in our attitudes, incremental changes in the law, drip feeds of falsehoods, the suppression of opposition, a numbing down of our consciences, the hiding of the effects from public scrutiny. There is nothing which makes me confident that this will not happen if we ever agree as a nation that it is sometimes OK to kill another person.
As a disabled person, and a mother of a young disabled daughter, I do not want to live in a world which means we would be afraid to be ill, afraid to go to hospital, afraid to lose control of what happens to us, feeling we need constant bodyguards standing over our beds. It already feels like this. I have witnessed disabled friends of mine being asked to sign the ‘Do Not Resuscitate' form when they were in hospital with treatable chest infections. How much worse will it get if Lord Joffe and his friends get their way?
And then there are the doctors, sworn to the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. Will this have to change to ‘Not do harm unless you are asked to'? Do we have the right to ask a professional to do something we have all been brought up to think of as a sin, as wrong, as murder? I do not think so. Many will refuse, but the Harold Shipmans of this world will be celebrating all the way to the mortuary.
I have watched friends die. They were not feeling much because they were medicated to the point that they were comfortable. For one that meant they were barely conscious. We do not allow unbearable suffering any more in our highly developed welfare state, not of the physical kind at least. Perhaps we should concentrate instead on the unbearable suffering in our hearts and minds when we are told that the world would be a better place without us.
There have been a number of recent high profile cases where disabled people have sought to legalise assisted suicide. DAA is concerned that should such legislation be introduced, the threat to the lives of disabled people will be greater than ever. We have produced a Briefing paper that outlines the arguments for and against.
Our society today is increasingly seeing impairment, disability and aging as facets of life to be avoided at all costs. We are also a society that, because of medical advances, have grown less and less used to pain and suffering. We expect the medical profession to find a solution to any problem that we may have. Death is an infrequent visitor to families as we live longer and are more likely to survive birth and maternity. Advances in the genetic sciences send out copious messages that we can have impairment free children, that it is quite all right to throw away embryos that have genes that may lead to disabling impairments, that we will get rid of aging and that we will soon be able to alter genes so that all problems will be solved.
We also live with the reality. The medical profession is not infallible and many people do not receive the treatment that they should and do suffer pain and indignity. Disabled people do not have enough support, either financial or personal, and many live highly restricted, solitary and poverty-stricken lives.
To read the full text of ASSISTED SUICIDE AND DISABLED PEOPLE – A BRIEFING PAPER click on one of the links below.