Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Assisted suicide for disabled people – democracy in Britain?

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick OBE, Director of Hope Ireland, published on the Hope Ireland's blog.
Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick
Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor’s recent research results[1] are extremely important.

As Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said in a public debate (Southbank, January 28 2012), ‘This is about the kind of society we want to live in’.

Cohen-Almagor’s paper reprises a truth Baroness Jane Campbell, founder of Not Dead Yet UK, has spent years trying to help people understand. We have clear evidence that assisted suicide/euthanasia laws are aimed primarily at disabled people. Lord Falconer has now openly admitted this on the Daily Politics show (BBC 9 June 2015).

Pain, we have repeatedly said, is not the primary reason for asking for assisted suicide. Falconer agrees: ‘…pain…can be dealt with…it is the sense of people losing independence and being reliant on other people…there’s a small number of people who…find that an intolerable position…’ Yes, 61% of people in Washington State US say they want to die because they feel themselves ‘to be a burden on others’.[2] No small number that.

Rob Marris, MP is now determined to bring forward in the House of Commons the Assisted Dying Bill. But this softened language is mere disguise according to page 39 of Lord Falconer’s own ‘commission’ report: ‘assisted dying’ just means ‘Assisted suicide/euthanasia’.[3]

Marris topped the ballot for a Private Member’s Bill. Falconer came twenty-first. Suddenly, Marris had adopted Falconer’s Bill as his own project. I cannot help but wonder how the other nineteen who came out of the hat before Falconer now feel. Is this really democracy in action? So that people may die if they fear the kind of ‘dependence’ millions of us disabled people accommodate every day?

Don’t let them tell you this is about indignity – needing help with toileting – we manage that, thank you. Don’t let them tell you this is about choice. All decision-making will legally rest with doctors, not patients: if the doctor says ‘No’, there is no recourse in law. Anyone determined to commit suicide is forced to ‘doctor-shop’. Choice is an illusion. Don’t let them tell you we are cruel, or we ‘have to walk in their shoes’ – human empathy depends on not having to wear the same shoes, but in any case, we have walked that way many times. And long, long before the newly-diagnosed meet their own despair and grief, we have stood at that loneliest junction, at the edge of human existence. Many of us did not, do not come back.

Marris was called by John Pring (Disability News Service[4]) to clarify his position. Towards the end of the interview, asked if he agreed that people should be helped to die because they felt their progressive, disabling condition was ‘intolerable’, Marris hung up. The major proponent of assisted suicide in Britain, the self-styled Dying in Dignity, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, agrees with Falconer. Perhaps Marris is not so sure. We must hope.

In an article about Dr Tom Mortier’s mother, in the New Yorker re Belgium’s law[5] Belgium’s leading euthanasia doctor rehearsed his line: ‘We…are confronted more and more with patients who are…‘tired of life.’’ – Wim Distelmans, an oncologist, still considers their pain to be incurable. ‘If you ask for euthanasia because you are alone, and…because you don’t have family to take care of you, we cannot create family.’

That is the point – when someone feels is in such despair, without such basic support, that there really is nothing left for them but death – the idea that people are exercising autonomy is nonsense. We know people come to seriously consider death as their only ‘way out’ but we also know mostly why: so does Falconer, so does Belgium’s leading euthanizer.

Another Belgian adviser, Prof Em Etienne Vermeersch, declaimed publicly that their euthanasia law was written for disabled people, who of course ‘would and should want to die because of their disability’.[6] These laws simply are rooted in the fundamentally, deadly discriminatory attitude that a disabled life ‘is not worth living’. Canada has just written into law that disability is in and of itself sufficient reason to request euthanasia. Who can now deny what we’ve been saying all along?

When non-disabled people say they despair of their future, suicide prevention is the default service we must provide. Disabled people, by contrast, feel the seductive, easy arm of the few, supposedly trusted medical professionals, around their shoulder; someone who says ‘Well you’ve done enough. No-one could blame you.’

They may genuinely believe they are motivated by what they think is compassion.In the last British census almost ten million people declared they were living with impairments. They, and how many families and relatives are involved? Do we really propose putting all their lives at risk?

What kind of society is that?

[1] Cohen-Almagor R,. ‘First do no harm: intentionally shortening lives of patients without their explicit request in Belgium’ J Med Ethics Published Online First: doi:10.1136/medethics-2014-102387

[2] Washington State Department of Health Death With Dignity Act report, 2014

[3] Commission on Assisted Dying Report, Demos, January 5, 2012

[4] http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/

[5] The New Yorker 22 June 2015[6] Goethe Institute Brussels, 13 November 2013

1 comment:

Andy r said...

By all means create extra support for suicidal people, I can't deny that I would feel happier if such a thing existed, regardless of the availability for assisted dying.

But to believe that everyone's problem would be solved by mere support is hogwash of the highest order. I have seen my mother and my stepmother both die of cancer in hospital - with lots of loving family members visiting them every day - and I am absolutely resolved that I do not want that for myself.

I spent 16 days in hospital following heart surgery and was incredibly glad to get out - I just loathe hospitals, despite the fact that every nurse and hospital member was lovely and a credit to their profession.

As a result, I have determined that should I be terminally ill, I will discharge myself from hospital, refusing in advance all re-admission. Knowing that there are circumstances where I would be unable to look after myself, I want the option - like in Oregon - to have suicide pills, so I can die in my own garden, with the sun on my face.

Believe me, there is nothing you can offer me in terms of support that would make me change my mind. Indeed, I would loathe you for pressuring me to stay alive because that would be what YOU wanted, rather than what I would want.

Having said that, I know that some disabled people accept the need for care and believe their lives to be rich. Never in a million years would I dream of taking away their choice to do this. I just want my choice to be respected too.

And ask yourself this - can you really respect yourself for believing that the only way to keep the choice of people in your concern is to utterly deny the choice of others? You believe you are protecting the vulnerable, when in reality you are sacrificing the autonomy of one individual group to protect another from even being offered a difficult choice.

I cannot say I feel safer because of groups like yours. I would rather have the choice than have it decided in advance as a "one size fits all" solution, justified by the dubious idea that I can't decide for myself, that I am too "vulnerable" and must lose my autonomy.

Find a better way to protect the disabled.