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The Welfare Debate Impacts the Assisting Dying Debate

24/11/2014 16:29 GMT | Updated 24/01/2015 10:59 GMT

During my birth I was starved of oxygen and spent the first few weeks of my life in an incubator. The doctors did not think I would survived and so I was quickly baptised as a matter of course so I went to the right place. When I clearly survived, my destiny was predicted to be very poor, can't walk/talk or do anything. It was implied that if my mother wanted to walk away, I would be dealt with, but she kept me and the rest is history. Sadly, this is not an unusual story from whatever era, including now.

Assisted dying, assisted suicide, mercy killing or whatever else you wish to call 'kind murder' happens regularly in this country at this time and the relevant bodies turn a blind eye. Those who wish to put it on a legal footing, since the law generally only catches up with everyday practice, have I believe the agenda of wishing to make it a 'guilt-free' decision, in whatever religious or moral framework they work with.

I personally would support assisting dying if I truly believed it could be a free choice and not influenced by external factors and more importantly a background of buried and deep-rooted prejudices towards sick and disabled people. But the problem is despite all the positive talk from all sides, and while sick and disabled people indeed have civil and human rights, we have still not yet won the right to exist and be accepted as truly equal citizens. An example of this is the way disabled babies, as opposed to non-disabled babies, can be aborted right up to full term in pregnancies.

The portrayal of disabled people and the subtle attitudes that degrade our existence has always interested and concern me. This deep rooted prejudice is no one's fault and the blame game is unhelpful, especially when the bigotry is not manifested in conscious intentions. And so in this context, we need to look at the welfare debate and how it feeds the flames of the prejudices that makes assisting dying acceptable.

While the welfare debate should be about how money is fairly distributed to ensure those who fall on difficult times receive enough income to live upon, as well as ensuring people are enabled and empowered to better their situation if they so choose and/or able to, this is sadly not how it is portrayed and framed by most of the parties involved. The buried prejudices towards sick and disabled people by everyone involved, regardless of their politics or even disability status, means that lazy journalism and activism has lead to knee-jerk headlines and reactions.

The welfare debate as ended up being about whom can best protect disabled people as 'the most vulnerable members of society'. This framing automatically removes sick and disabled people from being active members of society and full citizens, and places us on the same shelf as animal welfare as a 'cause' to fight for. When a newspaper tries to elicit compassion and sympathy because someone with a specific impairment/condition has been 'unfairly' found fit for work, when 'we all know' they should not be made to work, it is precisely the same compassion and sympathy elicited by those believing people with specific impairments/conditions should have the right to kill themselves.

I fear public opinion is leading to a so far unwritten list of impairments listed according to their acceptability or as others frame, how deserving they are. On this list, there is a yellow line and a red line. Those below the yellow line are regarded as unable to work and should be automatically parked on benefits without appeal. Those below the red line are regarded as having such a miserable life, just because of their impairment/condition, it should be obvious they should have the right to kill themselves to escape their horrible lives.

While it has been my aim to remove these lines all together as signs of a prejudiced society, the reality is unless the conversation on welfare and other issues changed drastically, the lines will not only stay but also include more impairments. To stop this happening we all need to look deep inside us, regardless of what we think we believe, and review our own prejudices towards others however small.

Securing a positive future for all sick and disabled people will not come from dirty politics and cheap headlines, but rather it will come from putting our differences aside and digging deep to reveal and challenge the prejudices against us, even those from within, that have existed since we were living in caves. Only by doing this will the issues of welfare and assisting dying be framed in a new and positive way.