Assisted Suicide - What's The Big Song and Dance?

21/07/2016 12:45 | Updated 21 July 2016

With the announcement of Liz Carr's new production Assisted Suicide - The Musical previewing in late July, I thought it a good idea to explore some of the wider implications of assisted dying.

Recently the debate around Assisted Dying has become a cause célèbre and is now one of the hottest topics of the 21st Century. The concept of assisting someone to die if they are terminally ill may seem a no brainer. Making it legal to assist in a person committing suicide if they feel they can no longer carry on, or that they fear what their impending death may bring, is portrayed in the media as a humanitarian act of compassion that any forward thinking caring society would allow.

UK law currently states that while it is legal to commit suicide, if someone assists in that suicide they have broken the law. But as the lobby to change the law has built, many disabled campaigners like myself and Liz Carr are aware of issues that are not so apparent and have rallied against the lobby to change the law.

I have no moral concerns about suicide. I am not religious and do not feel that life is sacred. There are many people who oppose assisted suicide for these reasons, but most disabled people I know have concerns based in the real and not the metaphysical world. There are disabled people who claim assisted dying would be the ultimate act of ensuring self-determinacy, giving those people whose impairments deny them the physical ability to kill themselves assistance in doing so if they so desire.

Many of those disabled people who support assisted suicide claim that they are
unable to continue with their lives as disabled people. They state their "suffering" is too much to bear and that they should be able to choose to die. While it is saddening that there are people who feel this way, concerns start once the element of assistance comes into play.

It is worrying that allowing medically assisted dying would place this solution to illness or disability into the treatment options of the medical profession. The oath to "do no harm" would be changed forever, and death would alter from being something to fight at all costs to being a positive outcome for certain people.

However much many would like to think that our community has gained increasing equality and rights, disabled people are still not seen as truly equal. With the Paralympics fast approaching and Channel 4 rolling out it's Superhumans publicity campaign it becomes obvious that disabled people doing usual things like singing, playing music and/or playing world class sport is still seen as special - mostly as disability is still understood as being the loss of ability, the loss of being normal.

This loss is feared by most of the non-disabled world, and means that for most people who become disabled, the stereotypes of disability leave them heartbroken at what the new future might hold. Is a society, which understands disability as something to fear, as a tragic loss of independence, autonomy and freedom really ready to allow assisted suicide?

Many supporters insist that the current proposed changes to the law only allow
assisted dying for people with a terminal illness who has six months or less to
live, and so would not impact on disabled people at all. But surely the reason why these people want to change the law is out of compassion for those who are suffering? Once they get a law which includes those who are terminally ill wouldn't that same compassion mean that it was only a matter of time before the law was changed further to include those who suffered as much as those who were terminally ill?

Why does this worry so many disabled people? Well, I know from personal experience after becoming a wheelchair user, that if such a law had existed some 35 years ago I would have taken advantage of it. I was so sure my life was over and I would never be happy in a wheelchair that I tried to kill myself.

Yet shortly after this moment, my life changed and I now look back on a life that many of my non-disabled friends are jealous of - a life unlike any stereotype of disability held by most people. But I gained this life with the help of support from family, friends and many of the services provided by society. This is another key argument against assisted suicide. Before we can roll out legalised assisted dying we need to ensure that we provide full support for assisted living.

The news media attempts to cover the debate in a balanced manner but the creative arts tends to be in favour of assisted death. Whether in soaps, such as Eastenders or Coronation Street, or in blockbuster novel/film Me Before You, assisted suicide is portrayed as a rational choice. But how can a society have informed choice about this issue without seeing both sides?

This was the driving force behind turning Liz Carr's irreverent eye to the subject. Assisted Suicide - The Musical uses humour and music to explore many of the concerns of disabled people and entertains while it challenges its audience to think more deeply about its topic. Art can be a tool for changing perceptions. In talking about why she chose the genre of musical theatre Liz Carr said: "Musical theatre has become a metaphor in the piece, it's almost a character in its own right. Because musical theatre is a world of glitz and glamour, vitality and health, everything is sparkly... You clap and sing along and you almost don't know what you're singing along to."

I hope that people from both sides of the debate meet at the show and it marks a point where the heated debate that has occurred so far becomes a more reasoned argument.

Originally Published in Disabiliity Arts Online

For a full interview with Liz Carr

Links to book tickets