Friday, September 9, 2011

Alison Davis - a UK disability activist responds to pro-euthanasia person with a disability

Tony Nicklinson, a paralyzed Englishman lobbying for a so-called ‘right to die’, was interviewed recently by Stephen Sackur for the BBC’s “HardTalk” programme.

Alison Davis, the coordinator of the disability rights group, No Less Human, responds to Mr. Nicklinson’s interview. Alison wrote:
“While the interview purports to let Tony Nicklinson speak for himself, in fact almost all of what he says is lifted from the ill-named “Dignity in Dying” (DiD, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society). For instance he apparently holds the view that as able bodied people can “choose to take their own life” so “a paralyzed person of sound mind [should] have a right to die.” However, there is no “right to suicide” in this country for anyone, disabled or not. In fact, much public money is spent on “suicide prevention programmes” for the non-disabled, though those who run them are eerily silent when asked to comment on assisted suicide for sick/disabled people.

Another argument that he uses, again lifted from DiD, is that he might not want to die “if he had the ‘comfort’ of knowing that suicide was an option.” This argument was widely used by Debbie Purdy, in her campaign to make assisted suicide legal. However, in Mr. Nicklinson’s case it soon transpires that he is not seeking to change the law on assisted suicide, as Mrs. Purdy was. He wants it to be legal for him to be given a lethal injection (euthanasia). This is what DiD originally campaigned for. However, in recent years the group has been careful not to mention this, although undoubtedly it is still their final aim.

Both Mr. Nicklinson and his wife want “strict safeguards,” again along the lines of DiD’s “model” law. Note that lethal injections should be available “in only the most special of cases.” As has been apparent from places where some form of killing sick or disabled adults has been legalized, it has proved impossible to ‘hold the line’ in this way. Once it becomes legal to directly kill an adult (by whatever means, and whatever the disability), the situation quickly deteriorates, and those ‘not quite’ fulfilling the ‘strict criteria’ are found to be ‘worthy’ to qualify for this type of supposed ‘death with dignity’. Then the proverbial slippery slope is greased enough to allow the killing of those unable to ‘choose’ death –e.g., disabled newborns and people with dementia, both of whom qualify for being deliberately and directly killed in The Netherlands.

Interestingly, though, Mr. Nicklinson re-defines what pro euthanasia campaigners say–that going to the ‘Dignitas’ killing facility in Switzerland constitutes ‘death with dignity’. His definition of ‘death with dignity’ is to be killed at home, preferably with the help of his wife, who would give him sedation, followed by an amorphous ‘someone else’ who would give the lethal injection. …

However, from my own personal perspective, what stands out most from this interview is Mr. Nicklinson’s opinion that his situation “causes anguish for pro-life campaigners who could not possibly understand.” One has to assume that he has not the slightest idea of who “pro-life campaigners” are, and what they may have personally experienced.

I cite my own case in complete contradiction of his view. I run No Less Human (NLH), a disability rights group which, amongst other things, campaigns against all forms of euthanasia/assisted suicide. NLH members are either disabled themselves, have a disabled family member, or care in some capacity for disabled people. I have several seriously disabling conditions, including spina bifida/hydrocephalus, chronic obstructive pulmonary (lung) disease, osteoporosis and arthritis. I use a wheelchair full-time. I take morphine regularly, but that doesn’t satisfactorily control the pain. When the pain is at its worst I can’t think, move or speak. I need surgery, but cannot have it, because my lungs are so badly affected there is a high risk that I would die on the operating table. I live with levels of pain which most would find ‘unbearable’. But somehow, with the help of my closest friend and carer, Colin, we manage to find a way through the tough times together.

I notice that the Nicklinsons’ idea of ‘safeguards’ includes ‘a lengthy ‘cooling off’ period’. Again my situation is relevant. Some years ago I wanted to die, a settled wish that lasted over 10 years. I feel confident that wanting to die for 10 years would be sufficiently ‘lengthy’ to satisfy Mr. Nicklinson’s criterion. I seriously attempted to take my own life, and at that time doctors thought I didn’t have long to live. If the Nicklinsons’ campaign had been successful and in place then, I would have chosen death, and would not now be alive. If that had happened, no one would ever have known that the best years of my life lay in the future, despite the fact that my pain and disabilities are much worse now than they were then. Equally, no one would ever have known that the doctors’ prognosis of a very short life expectancy, and of a ‘life not worth living’ were so very wrong.

Jane Nicklinson, Tony’s wife, ends the interview by noting that “all the letter writing and the campaigning … you quite enjoy it, don’t you?” If Mr. Nicklinson still has something to enjoy, albeit campaigning for his own death, doesn’t it rather suggest that, given support and encouragement, he might find that he enjoys other, less morbid, activities even more?”

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