Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill is being debated today in the House of Lords, at Committee Stage. The Bill proposes to legalise assisted suicide for those who may be ‘reasonably expected to die’ within six months. Many disabled people and peers in the House of Lords have spoken of their concerns about the impact that a change in the law would have on disabled people.
Concerns about legalising assisted suicide
According to research by Scope, most disabled people are concerned about a change in the law on assisted suicide. Many fear that it could lead to disabled people being pressured into ending their lives prematurely. The majority (55%) of disabled people surveyed believe that the current ban on assisted suicide protects vulnerable people from that pressure.
Ensuring disabled people don’t feel that they are a burden
In the State of Washington, where assisted suicide is legal, 61% of those requesting to end their lives did so because they felt a burden on friends, family or care-givers. Scope’s research of 1,000 disabled adults shows that two-thirds (65%) believe that disabled people are often seen by the public as a burden to society. Baroness Jane Campbell, who has spoken publicly about why she is opposed to legalising assisted suicide, and a number of peers including Baroness Tanni Grey-Campbell, will raise this issue in today’s debate.
Safeguarding against pressure
Peers will also discuss whether it is possible to protect the individual against family exploitation or abuse. A poll published yesterday by disability rights campaign Not Dead Yet and anti-assisted suicide alliance Care Not Killing, shows that 58% of the public accepted that it was "impossible to make the system completely safe from abuse by unscrupulous relatives or others who could influence the process".
Why Scope opposes a change in the law
Scope has come out strongly against the legalisation of assisted suicide. Richard Hawkes, CEO of disability charity Scope explains: “Many disabled people are really worried about a change in the law on assisted suicide. They are concerned that it will lead to disabled people, and other vulnerable people, feeling under pressure to end their lives. Why is it that when people who are not disabled want 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? The campaign to legalise assisted suicide reinforces deep-seated beliefs that the lives of disabled people are not worth as much as other people’s. It's a view that is all too common. The current law against assisted suicide works. It sends a powerful message countering the view that if you're disabled it's not worth being alive, and that you're a burden.”
Notes to the editor:
Scope commission Opinium research to conduct an online survey of 1,005 disabled UK adults aged 18 and over between 7th and 11th July 2014.
For more information, please contact Pasca Lane in the Scope press office on 0207 6197201 or firstname.lastname@example.org.