On Friday the Lords will debate the 'Assisted dying bill' and I am one if many disabled people that has been vocal in their opposition to this dangerous legislation, that is likely to be the starting point to the normalisation of 'mercy killings' and a societal pressure upon sick and disabled people to 'do the right' thing.
The supporters of the bill, all of them who are not disabled or terminally ill, backed by 'Dignity in Dying', who were previously called the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, wish to present a nice clean bill. The killing will be restricted to those who are terminally ill, with less than 6 months, or 183 days, to live, as agreed by two doctors, and have the mental capacity to consent to killing themselves, which the supporters want to make clear is 'kind' assisted dying, not the less publically accepted assisted suicide, a difference in words that make little difference to its results, premature death. The supporters want to make us believe the bill has nothing to do with disabled people, and that 'we' are in some way immoral for trying to interfere in things that are not our business.
The problem with this clean picture is that it ignores what is in fact a very unclear picture. Firstly, it is extremely hard to separate impairment from terminal illness as they are often interlinked, and in the public's eye, it is all 'needless suffering'. Secondly, no doctor on the planet would be prepared to diagnose anyone in having exactly 183 days left to live since no illness is predictable and someone's journey will be affected by so many factors, including their own attitudes towards their state of being. While some illnesses show their symptoms at this supposedly six month point, others may not.
The key point the supporters are using to win their case is ending 'needless suffering', citing pain and indignity as reasons to die. Suffering, pain and especially indignity is very much in the eye of the beholder and can not be measured. I find the term indignity offensive because it is often used by those who are not disabled or ill to describe how they think they will feel if it happened to them, based on their deep rooted prejudices towards impairment and sickness. You hear people say they rather die than end up having to use incontinence pads or nappies, so what the hell does it say about their opinion of the millions of people around the world perfectly happy wearing them? I wear nappies myself and I talk about 'nappy pride', something I am certainly not alone in. Suffering is a part of what makes us human, and stronger people, and no one has a right to escape it.
And if people want to end 'needless suffering', why just offer a painless suicide to those experiencing 'health suffering'? Why not economic suffering like people in debt or who have lost their job? Why not victims of crime or those who are confused about their sexuality or gender? Why does the bill discriminate those suffering and lack mental capacity, or who are experiencing long term chronic pain who do not have a terminal illness? I am sure if this bill is passed, a second bill will quickly follow to redress these anomalies, bringing the future many disabled people are fearing.
The supporters try to justify the bill by talking about people's 'right' to have 'choice and control' over their death. But many disabled people do not have choice and control over how they live, and yet despite many years of campaigning, it does not receive anywhere near the support or media attention this supposed right has. It is also impossible for anyone to have a free choice without taking into account their environment and the external pressures placed upon them by families and society. If people are not receiving the proper level of health and social care they are entitled to, this is certainly going to have an impact on their decision, which would never be taken at face value if they were not disabled.
I have felt suicidal a few times in my life, each time because I was unhappy with the current situation from my environment, having little to do with my impairments, but each time I was able to resolve the problems causing my unhappiness, bouncing back stronger than ever, making further and amazing contributions to others when I had assumed I completed my time here. Suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem, and people who want to die need proper and appropriate emotional support, whatever their situation, not a prescription of life-removing drugs.
Friday is a test to see how serious the country is in relation to the full inclusion of disabled people as equal citizens, and I hope it passes it by saying no to the bill.