By Baroness Jane Campbell
Editor’s note. This article was published by BBC News as part of “For and against assisted suicide.” Baroness Campbell is a disability leader and founder of Not Dead Yet UK, a network of people with disabilities in the UK who oppose legalizing the killing of people with disabilities. Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb were high-profile cases of men seeking assisted suicide cases.
Campaigners for a change in the law on assisted suicide present it as an extension of choice, giving those with chronic illness or disability the same “right” to end their lives as the rest of the population. When any other person seeks to end their life, we do not assist them. We help those with suicidal thoughts look for positives in their lives. I believe chronically ill and disabled people deserve that “right,” to be helped by us all to live their lives.
As a severely disabled person, I fear a change in the law to permit assisted dying. Those arguing for a change do not offer any guidance as to who might be included or excluded from obtaining assistance. I have suffered illnesses that have brought me close to death and I am sure to do so again. Will the doctors who cared for me so expertly in the past, now be ready to offer an assisted death?
Many disabled people know first-hand how society fears illness and disability. Most people are concerned about being reliant on others for assistance. The media has done a service to us all by exposing neglect and abuse in hospitals and care homes. Such scandals always reveal the receivers of care have been dehumanised by the providers of care. Few would believe that every case of malpractice has been exposed or that abuse cannot also occur when care is provided within the family.
Many have seen loved-ones, particularly parents, become frail as their health deteriorates. The main reason given for wishing to die is not wanting to become a burden, whether their family would see it that way or not. Against this background, the “quick-fix” of an assisted death appears attractive.
It is precisely because that is the majority view that we must continue to oppose it. There is no better evidence of the negativity with which terminal illness, chronic illness, and disability is viewed than that we might be better off dead.
We would not give-up on a suicidal person in otherwise good health, we should not give up on a terminally ill or disabled person seeking an assisted death.
If assisted dying is really a “right” (and I’m convinced it is not), it must be available to all, including the fit and well who consistently say they are suffering intolerably, not just those who find themselves in extremely desperate and challenging circumstances due to their deteriorating health. I didn’t want Tony Nicklinson to die and I don’t want Paul Lamb to die. I respect and value them. I want them to carry on disagreeing with me for as long as possible.