Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of Scope, in a media comment on Belgium’s euthanasia law today, equates it with a change in the law on assisted dying as proposed by Lord Falconer.
“Right now there are loud, well-organised and influential, calls to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill adults. There are lots of ordinary people, not least disabled people, who are really worried at the way we seem to be edging towards a change in the law”.
He goes on to state:
“Politicians will debate assisted suicide again later this year. They need to guard against community bullying of our most vulnerable members”.
- Mr Hawkes is wrong to equate Belgium’s euthanasia laws with a change in the law on assisted dying. Belgium from the beginning enacted a law to allow people to request direct medical assistance to die on a broad criteria of unbearable suffering, including non-dying people with disabilities. An assisted dying law, as is legal in the US States of Oregon and Washington, and as proposed by Lord Falconer is strictly limited to terminally ill, mentally competent adults. There is no evidence or rational argument that dictates that an assisted dying law leads inevitably to a law which enables non-dying disabled people help to die.
- Mr Hawkes ignores the views of a majority of disabled people. Polling on this issue shows that a clear majority of disabled people, like non-disabled people support a change in the law on assisted dying for terminally ill people. When the issue has been raised by Scope on its Facebook account, many of its supporters have set out that they support change for dying people.
- If some disabled people fear a change in the law, then that in part is because some opponents of change deliberately conflate assisted dying with a wider change in the law. For the avoidance of doubt, Lord Falconer’s assisted dying Bill is about enabling dying people choice and control over an imminent and unavoidable death, within upfront safeguards. Many disabled people have had their own experiences of lack of choice and control, we understand the importance of this for everyone, disabled or not, living or dying.
- The term ‘community bullying’ is unfortunate. Many people campaign for a change in the law on the basis of the tragic bad death of a loved one – to suggest that they are bullying others is offensive. No-one wants to place potentially vulnerable people in harm’s way – they simply do not want people to suffer against their wishes at the end of life. To that end, unfounded fears of a duty to die should not impose a duty to suffer on dying people.
As the coordinator of Disabled Activists for Dignity in Dying, I am happy to meet Mr Hawkes and other representatives of Scope to discuss this issue in greater detail. It would be constructive to have a dialogue and engage in a conversation about how the law can be framed to mitigate his fears. I would also suggest that before determining its position on this issue, Scope should seek a full consultation of the views of the disabled people it seeks to represent in relation to the criteria of the Bill proposed, not the criteria of a change in the law no one is proposing.
Since posting this Richard Hawkes has offered to meet me to discuss these issues, I’m looking forward to it