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An Assisted Dying Bill was recently debated in the House of Lords.
Scope – along with the Prime Minister, disabled activists, doctors, lawyers, older people’s charities and national newspapers – is opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying.
It’s understandable that people fear being disabled and dying for themselves or their loved ones.
We have to guard against supporters of assisted dying ‘painting such a terrifying future of pain and suffering’ when it comes to being disabled or having a life-limiting condition.
In recent polling, two-thirds (65%) of disabled people said people assume disabled people don’t have a good quality of life.
Scope believes we should focus more on challenging these assumptions about disability, not reinforcing them. We believe the lives of disabled people to be full and worth hanging on to. Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of Scope, said: “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?”
At the same time, changing the law takes away the protection disabled people have against these attitudes turning into something worse, and coming under pressure to end their lives from other people.
Firstly the definition of who could be included is broad. The bill refers to people who could be ‘reasonably expected to die’ within six months. This definition is much more vague than it sounds, and would include many disabled people who in fact have lived fulfilling lives for many years.
The Bill also fails to acknowledge the negative assumptions that people make about their own quality of life when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness or disability. These feelings of depression and despair can change over time. People need support to come to terms with these feelings, rather than help to end their lives.
Baroness Jane Campbell, who has a progressive disability, told the Today Programme:
"My fears about this Bill are because, unfortunately, I don't believe it's safe in any degree. I've looked at all the safeguards. I've been given six months to live probably about five times in my life - the last time a few years ago. It didn't happen... It's difficult, if not impossible, to predict when you're going to die. I have to have absolute faith that my doctors will be there for me, that they will not give up on me and that they will not think the best thing they can do is help me to die."
Lord Falconer’s Bill is based on the system in place in Oregon, USA. There, 40% of those requesting to end their life do so because they feel a burden on friends and family – nothing to do with being in pain. In Washington State, where assisted suicide is legal for those who are terminally ill, 61 per cent of all those given lethal drugs to end their lives listed feeling a burden on family, friends or care-givers as one of the reasons for wanting to die.
In Belgium, the assisted suicide law was extended recently allowing euthanasia for children. A Dutch ethicist said: "Don’t go there".
He wrote that recent developments in Holland include “a shift in the type of patients who receive these ‘treatments’”. He said: “Whereas in the first years after 2002 hardly any patients with psychiatric illnesses or dementia appear in reports, these numbers are now sharply on the rise. Cases have been reported in which a large part of the suffering of those given euthanasia or assisted suicide consisted in being aged, lonely or bereaved. Some of these patients could have lived for years or decades.”
The majority of disabled people are concerned about a change in the law. Find out more about Scope's research on disabled people's views on assisted suicide.
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