Assisted dying would undermine the fight for equality

By Alex Schadenberg

Dr. Miro Griffiths

Dr. Miro Griffiths is a Leverhulme Research Fellow in Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, a policy adviser and spokesperson for the Better Way campaign. In this article, was published by the Press and Journal in Scotland on September 27, 2021, he explains why assisted dying undermines the equality of people with disabilities.

Dr Griffiths establishes why the issue of euthanasia concerns him.

I have health conditions which are categorised as “life-limiting” and “progressive”. My strength, respiratory function and swallowing will continue to deteriorate.

Physical movement is primarily limited to my fingers. I require a power wheelchair, 24-hour personal assistance from trained professionals, and various medical interventions every day.

Dr. Griffith then explains that he is a researcher and why he recognizes how legalizing assisted death will affect him. He writes:

I believe the introduction of assisted suicide in the UK will have a direct impact on me as a person, and my community as a whole – on how we are viewed and valued, and on the services and support available to us in the years ahead. It is my belief that the practice would undermine existing disability policy and legislative frameworks that aspire to protect disabled people’s rights.

The United Nations, human rights groups, and Disabled People’s Organisations have highlighted the social injustices encountered by disabled people. Legislative and policy interventions should focus on improving opportunities to participate in society and access sufficient healthcare across the life course. But in countries such as Canada that have legalised assisted suicide, the treatment of disabled citizens and their access to such services has declined.

Dr Griffiths shares a link from a Canadian physician concerning the effect of legalizing assisted death for people with disabilities:

Canadian doctors testify to disturbing changes in the way disabled people are now treated by the medical establishment. One doctor recounted how she has encountered “story after harrowing story of disabled people sharing their experiences being demeaned, disempowered, and denied dignity by the healthcare system”. 

“I learned more about power in society and who is written off and who gets given the benefit of the doubt,” she said.

Dr. Griffiths discusses how people with disabilities experience human rights violations, denied opportunities to participate in the community, do not receive enough support or respect in society and how legalizing assisted death will compound these issues. He goes on to discusses his further concerns:

Firstly, the legislation would likely be subject to legislative “creep”, where inclusion criteria is expanded to permit more people to access assisted dying mechanisms.

In other nations, similar laws were quickly extended to allow disabled people and people with mental health conditions to access assisted death. What possible assurance can lawmakers give that this will not come about in the UK five, 10 or 15 years down the line? They are opening the door to this if they agree to a narrow change.

The UK assisted dying proposals use arbitrary definitions that focus on individuals in the “last six months of their life”. It is difficult to determine timeframes for expected deaths, given the continued changes to health outcomes, emergences in medical technology, and advancements in health care provision. Access to
treatments and support also differs across localities, which will affect health outcome expectations.

Assisted dying would inevitably result in patients thought to have less than six months to live ending their lives by suicide when they would, in fact, have gone on to live much longer. This is a significant ethical dilemma.

Finally, the necessary infrastructure to carry out the proposed assisted dying mechanisms also remains non-existent. No discussion has taken place on the time and resource allocation required to complete the declaration outlined in the bill, and to carry out due diligence throughout the procedures. It remains ambiguous as to how to determine the absence of coercion or duress when applications are made
.

The article concludes with Dr Griffiths urging legislators not to legalize assisted death. He then calls on legislators to focus on a better way. 

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg blog and is reposted with permission.