activist, assisted dying, Assisted Dying Bill, assisted suicide, austerity, cynicism, dignity in dying, euthanasia, independent living fund, lord falconer, Lord Freud, not dead yet, terminal illness, terminally ill, useless eaters
I’ll start with some emotive words. Pain. Suffering. Tragedy. Incurable. I’ve had them flung at me since childhood. Sometimes well-intentioned in an effort at empathy but mostly from a lazy perspective of no effort to enter into my world, my actual world.
It seems there’s a lot of perplexity out there regarding any understanding of disabled people – and with the return to the Lords today of the Falconer Assisted Dying Bill, you can be sure of much hard copy extolling how many of us yearn for a peaceful death, aided by saintly doctors. There will be the usual muddle about terminal illness and the severely disabled, not helped by the supporters of AS who often have poster-people who are not terminally ill.
Ah, the Assisted Dying Bill. Surely it’s about common sense and compassion, after all, and putting in place relevant protections. We don’t let animals suffer, do we? And we all want that lovely easy passage of medical help to ‘pass on’?
No, I do not. My friends and colleagues do not. We say no to state-sanctioned death and refute the idea that this is a simple issue.
And so it begins again, the dripping sadness and distress and awful tragedy. Let’s throw in dependence. There is a growing belief that if we suffer, have pain, are dependent and, yes, are deemed tragic, then it is surely understandable – inevitable even – that we want help to die – terminally ill or not.
This debate is so often about fears of dependency, loss of autonomy, and horror about becoming a burden. Recently in the news is the case of Australian Martin Burgess, who took his own life three years after a diagnosis of cancer. A friend reported that “the idea of becoming dependent on someone or going into palliative care was ‘abhorrent’ to him.”
The Falconer Bill purports to be based on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. Ironically the statistics arising from this law show some salutary truths about why people chose assisted suicide, and also some scary facts about people out-living their terminal prognoses. As this report by Dr Peter Saunders shows, it’s not pain (or fear of it) that’s the key reason people decide to do it, but, “in 2013 93% cited ‘loss of autonomy’, 89% said they were ‘less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable’ and 73% listed ‘loss of dignity’.”
Not sure where that leaves me; dependent on others since my twenties – and in pain every day. Activities? I engage in them as much as I ever have – dependent on the level of social care and the barriers within society that I may face; factors that have solutions with the right will and funding.
I want to weep. If you’re on the fence, please look at the evidence, wake up and smell the dreaded deathly cocktail. We know Lord Freud thinks some disabled people are not worth the minimum wage – I went on Newsnight to declare my anger and alarm at those opinions. The government generally, and their media lackeys, are labelling thousands of innocent disabled people scroungers – or claiming we are too expensive to support. This is evidenced by the grossly unfair closure of the Independent living Fund, the chaotic replacing of Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments and highly underfunded palliative care. How convenient then, that we can be subtly coaxed towards a state-sanctioned death, which is better for everyone.
What is left for me to say? Immersed in medical care for much of my life and extremely familiar with pain, this issue is personal – but I am not anti-suicide or anti-choice (see my Guardian piece). I know I am a compassionate person and that is why I am against this bill. I fear it will be a charter for hurried death, a slope towards sly murder where, believe me, family and medical coercion can never be 100% safe-guarded against.
Moreover, it will inevitably become a duplicitous weapon in the undermining of the worth of those disabled people – of all impairments, medical conditions and illnesses – who dare to want to live, to contribute and to flourish for however long they have.