The disability charity Scope is calling on the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders CB, QC to reaffirm the existing law and guidance on assisted suicide, after campaigners for legalising assisted suicide ‘hi-jacked’ a Coronation Street story line.
Campaigners, led by Lord Falconer, have seized on the Coronation Street story-line about a fictional character’s decision to take her life to call for assisted suicide to be legalised.
Scope, however, argues that the law and the current guidance as it stands works well, and – crucially – doesn’t apply to the issues raised by Coronation Street where the character isn’t being assisted to die.
Changing the law would be a major concern for disabled people.
Scope joins the likes of Tanni Grey-Thompson, Not Dead Yet and Care not Killing, in arguing that the ban on assisted suicide sends a really powerful message countering the view that if you’re disabled, your life’s not worth living, and that you’re a burden. It also stops that view turning into something much worse.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said:
"A heart-breaking and important soap story-line has been hi-jacked by the campaign to legalise assisted suicide.
"Let’s be clear – the law and the current guidance work well. None of the issues raised by Coronation Street suggest otherwise.
"Changing the law would however be a major concern for disabled people.
"The ban on assisted suicide sends a really powerful message countering the view that if you’re disabled it’s not worth being alive, and that you’re a burden. It also stops that view turning into something much worse.
"It’s a view that is all too common.
"Why is it when someone who is not disabled wants to commit suicide we try to talk them out of it, but when a disabled person wants to commit suicide we focus on how we can make that possible?
"We have seen that even medical and social care professionals can make negative assumptions about disabled people’s quality of life.
"The current law banning assisted suicide sends a strong message and provides crucial protection to any person who feels under pressure to end their life. Disabled people would be concerned at moves to chip away at it."
Scope’s Chair Alice Maynard said in a blog
"The campaign to legalise assisted suicide completely turns on its head the accepted approach of supporting someone if they feel suicidal. It ignores the fact that circumstances can change, pain can be managed, limited life can be discovered to be worth living.
"The campaign instead feeds on the view that some lives just aren’t worth living. It plays into negative attitudes about disability that stubbornly refuse to be consigned to history."
Baroness Grey-Thompson said;
"There is something slightly sinister about the campaign to legalise assisted suicide drumming up support for a change in the law by misrepresenting a story-line in a soap opera.
"The decisions of a fictional character should not be the basis to try and change the law on any issue.
"Like many disabled people I’m all too familiar with the view that many in society take of us - that they wouldn’t want to live with our disabilities and that our lives are less worth living than the lives of others.
"Legalising assisted suicide will only serve to reinforce deep seated prejudices that the lives of sick and disabled people aren’t worth as much as other people’s.
"That’s why this campaign sends a chill down my spine.
"However well-intended Lord Falconer and his co-campaigners are his actions risk creating a law to cater for the strong rather than to protect the weak."
As Dr Peter Saunders from Care Not Killing said on the Today Programme
"The most concerning thing of all about this is the myth that suicidal thoughts in people who are disabled or sick should be managed differently from similar thoughts in those who are not sick or disabled… It panders to public prejudice in a way that is very, very dangerous."
Disabled people and their families have also been posting their views on social media:
Ian on Facebook said:
"Let's have more from the press and society about assisted living and less about assisted dying."
"I don't agree with it at all My dad had Alzheimers my Mum Stomach cancer and my late hubby Had bowel and liver Cancer I have cared for them all and stil believe that nature takes its course My Daughter has Cerebal Palsy as well I really wouldn't like to think any of my loved ones even considered it "
"After 26 years of willing my sister to live on several occasions - I would never give up on her, along with my mum we have fought too long & hard to just let her go, life isn't easy my mum is 70 & still cares for her at home with minimum support on a morning & evening - my sister is still there & can show pleasure or discomfort despite."
also on Facebook Susan said:
"Assisted suicide was covered in Emmerdale, in a tragic storyline and the legal ramifications that followed. I can't recollect any call for a change in the law with that story line. Corrie's storyline is the suicide of a person with terminal cancer. I don't see how the leap can be made.
"I'm very unsure about assisted suicide. I understand the point of view of helping somebody who wants to die but can't do it for themselves but I can also see how it can be abused not just by relatives but by officials."
Michelle commenting on the Scope blog said:
"I think in the climate of capitalism that we live in where everyone is valued by how much money possessions etc they can accumulate, euthanasia would rapidly become used to dispose of the weak and vulnerable such as disabled people who cannot contribute financially to society. As the mother of three disabled children, two of whom are severe learning disabled this frightens me!"
Also on the Scope blog Anita said:
"I would not trust that anyone could or should make that decision for my three disabled children. There are so many poor quality decisions made by the powers that be and budgets drive a lot of them."