Today [May 30] a Bill to legalise assisted suicide is being presented in Parliament. Such a change has been considered many times in the past but has always been rejected for the same reasons. Despite what the propaganda says, the majority of people it is intended to help didn’t ask for it and don’t want it. In fact we are fearful of any change in the law that would weaken the protection we rely upon now.
Those seeking to change the law say it is intended to alleviate “intolerable suffering” only for those with a terminal illness and less than six months to live. Whether or not a person meets these criteria will be determined by two independent doctors and a High Court Judge. In effect, they will be required to endorse the suicidal person’s view that they would be better off dead and the state should assist in that objective.
At present, the law treats all suicidal persons equally. We try to deter them from carrying out their wishes. We protect them from themselves by giving support. It is a very necessary protection and must not be withdrawn from those of us who are ill or disabled, especially at our lowest points, when we might question the point of going on, particularly if those around us believe we would be better off dead.
In every jurisdiction where a form of assisted suicide has been legalised, the numbers dying in this way increase over time. It is logical that it should. Why deny someone their wish when safeguards are open to interpretation, or criteria have been changed?
The government should be helping people to live – not to die through assisted suicide.
The best way to help the terminally ill is to better invest in palliative care and find a solution to the social care crisis. Once assisted suicide is law, society has endorsed it as an option, equal to that of life. Those who had never considered it will be told that it is an option. Their families, friends, health and social care professions will all know it as an option too. It is hard enough already for those of us with terminal illnesses and disabilities to get the support services we need to live active independent lives. For essential support to become merely the alternative option to assisted suicide terrifies us. That is why no organisation of terminally ill or disabled people has sought a change in the law. Why do others think they know what’s best for us?
Whilst many reasons are given, they boil down to a fear of illness and disability and the changes to independence that may bring: loss of mobility, loss of income, loss of respect, neglect and, potentially, abuse. Fear of relying on others and of being a burden. It tells us a lot about how society views terminally ill and disabled people.
Of course, the vast majority of us don’t see ourselves in that way. We don’t want the special treatment of an assisted suicide. We want basic human rights to live with dignity and respect so we can enjoy life. With the right support, most of us are pretty good at it.
Covid-19 has been described as “this generation’s polio”. Its effects have been felt by everyone and, for many, it has had life-changing consequences. According to the latest figures, disabled people make up 59% of all COVID-19 related deaths. In meeting this challenge the country has come together in universal praise of those working on the NHS [National Health Service] and social care front lines. The desire for them to receive the funding and resources needed to expand and improve services has been overwhelming.
Legalising assisted suicide, especially now, should not be part of the solution. We need help to live – not to die. That means investment in palliative care, solutions to the social care crisis and continued financial support for our world-class NHS.
Last time the House of Commons considered legalising assisted suicide (in 2015), it was rejected by a majority of 212, affirmation that terminally ill and disabled people are entitled to equal protection under the law. What has changed in the last six years to require the issue to be debated again? Certainly not the views of palliative care doctors or geriatricians, who remain firmly opposed to a change in the law.
Have the lives of terminally ill and disabled people improved to the extent that they are now regarded as equal members of society? Clearly not, because why otherwise would supporters of today’s bill seek to limit its effect to only us?