Last week the House Of Lords debated Lord Faulkner's Assisted Dying bill. The bill argues that that people with six months or less to live should be able to call on the medical profession to assist them to die, as an act of mercy for those who are suffering. While polls state that large numbers of our society are in favour of this bill becoming law, I am one of those who am seriously worried about the future implications if this was to happen. In past articles for the HuffPost I have raised some of my worries and objections, but recently I experienced something that made me even more worried about the whole concept.
Throughout the month of May I have been in hospital following a minor surgery which required me to spend the period on full time bed rest. Luckily my surgery went very well and I am currently well on the mend much to the pleasure of my entire medical team. However my stay did not all go as planned. The day after my surgery there was a major panic, based around the fact that I do not function the way that most people with my level and type of spinal injury normally do. Even though I kept maintaining I had a much higher level of function, various medical staff insisted this could not be the case and I ended up being rushed to the operating theatre for tests. Apparently my word was not enough.
Before I went into have this exploratory procedure I was informed I may also need "an intervention". As I was prepared for the tests I maintained I knew I did not need any intervention and that I did not consent to any surgery, so I think you can imagine my horror when I awoke to find that the surgeon had carried out the very procedure I had forbidden him to do. When I made my displeasure known (rather vocally and at high volume) the entire surgical team came to my bed side and my surgeon told me he had done the procedure "for my own good", which he accompanied with a pat on my knee. It took me an entire week of fighting to prove I did not need the intervention but as soon as I had, the procedure was reversed. Phew. I later found out that what was done to me had serious possible side effects, which included permanent loss of function or even death. Yes, I am taking this further but it raises a truly terrifying issue around the concept of assisted dying/suicide.
Just woken up from my surgery - the one I consented to!
When I became a wheelchair user, at the tender age of fifteen, I was sure my life had very little ahead to look forward to. I became depressed and seriously considered suicide. I did not go through with it, mainly as I was worried about the impact it might have on my Mother, but it is this period that makes me so concerned about the concept of assisted dying. While the current bill does not include people with disabilities or non-life threatening conditions, many of those people campaigning for a change in the current law do hope that if this bill is written into the statute books it will begin a process of widening the remit of the law to include other people who feel they cannot go on. People such as Paul Lamb or the late Tony Nicklinson both campaigned for a law that allowed for sick and disabled people being able to request assisted suicide. If this was to happen then another teenager who was going through the same experience as I did back when I was fifteen could call on the medical profession to assist them to die, stating they could not face the quality of life they had to look forward to as a disabled person as a reason. This in itself is worrying for so many disabled people, but now consider that there are surgeons out there who carry out procedures without consent or after consent has been withdrawn. Don't say it doesn't happen because as I have explained; it does.
Most of the general public have full and total trust in any member of the medical profession. It's essential for the physical and mental well being of all of us really, and even though mine has been tested on many, many occasions I know that I still have to hand myself over to doctors when it's necessary. While most of the public have never had their existence questioned by those very professionals, most sick and disabled people have. I know that time and time again I have found my insistence that I have a happy and fulfilled life as a disabled person questioned, or had my own experience of how my body functions challenged. This recent case has been the most extreme example of this but having to prove my own feelings and experience of being disabled has been part of forming a new relationship with every member of the medical profession I have interacted with.
So, lets imagine this newly disabled teenager, who is depressed about their change in ability and expected future ahead of them, has chosen the route of assisted dying but before the procedure is carried out, at the very last moment, they decide to withdraw their consent. What are the safe guards that would be written into law and put in place to ensure that the attitudes towards illness or disability of the medical professionals involved in assisting the death did not kick in, leading them to see this procedure as being for the teenager's "own good"?
Before you answer, remember that all these protections are apparently already in place, yet I awoke to find the something similar had happened to me. I could fight to undo my surgery, but assisted dying is one procedure that can never be undone.