Thursday 17 July 2014

Assisted Dying. The Slippery Slope is here already.

Lord Falconer's Bill on Assisted Dying will be debated this Friday.  This is a bill which evokes strong emotions whichever side you agree with.

For my part I do not support the bill, something I have come under a lot of attack for. Unfortunately these attacks have but strengthened my reasons,  in particular as I am condemned as having no compassion for people such as Tony Nicklinson.

I have a lot of arguments but for the purposes of this post I am going to concentrate on a single aspect: the "slippery slope". As a disabled person this is of particular concern to me.
I have been told very bluntly by strangers in the street "If I were you I'd kill myself". Acquaintances have said that they don't know how I live the way I do and others that they couldn't live if they were "like me".

So it isn't a stretch of the imagination to see that a newly disabled person could easily want to die. It takes time to adjust. But worryingly they would not receive the support they require from many people around them as even subconsciously they would be busy telling them that in their position they'd also rather die. It is a subtle form of pressure.

Of course people reading this are busy thinking "But the bill doesn't apply to disabled people".
Well no, it doesn't.
But the problem is that the "slippery slope" has already started.
Who are the people fronting the argument for assisted dying?
Who are the examples who have convinced people like Lord Carey to change their minds?
Are they terminally ill people who the bill will help?

Well... no. They are disabled people.
We have people like Tony Nicklinson. Or Terry Pratchett.
If people are campaigning and voting on the basis of these examples then in their minds they are already applying assisted dying to other people outside the law: specifically, disabled people.

I wonder what will happen if the bill becomes law but the MPs, Lords and general public then realise that it does not apply to the cases they thought it did.
What will happen when the next Tony Nicklinson comes along and cannot avail himself of the newly passed Assisted Dying Law?

Finally Dignity in Dying repeatedly says this is not about disability but just terminal illness.
So I leave you with the foreword on their website from their patron Professor Antony Grayling:
I believe that decisions about the timing and manner of death belong to the individual as a human right. This is especially relevant in cases of terminal illness, painful or undignified unrelievable illness, exhausting old age, and other circumstances where an individual might wish to make the autonomous decision to end his or her life. I further believe that it is wrong to withhold medical methods of terminating life painlessly and swiftly when an individual requests them on the basis of a rational and clear-minded sustained wish to end his or her life.
As long as disabled people are used to front the argument for Assisted Dying, as long as Dignity in Dying includes old age, chronic illness and "other circumstances" as valid reasons, I will worry about the "slippery slope" and oppose the bill.

EDIT: The bill was not passed. But what is most crucial to my points here are the subsequent remarks made by Lord Falconer. He admitted that the reason for the bill was not the relief of unbearable pain for terminally ill patients, but the indignity of having to rely on other people. In other words the difficulties of being newly disabled.
The fear of relying on other people is hugely exaggerated in non disabled people and is what leads to the comments like "if I were you I'd kill myself". Most disabled people do adapt with the appropriate support. This is what should be concentrated on, just as much and importantly as pain relief, not helping people to die instead.
Lord Falconer's comments are below:
The work that has been done in relation to this shows generally it is not the pain, it is not the fact that you can’t relieve pain – that can be dealt with – it is the sense of people losing their independence and being reliant on other people, and there’s a small number of people who whatever you do would find that an intolerable position to be in.
Dignity in Dying finally admitted on the politics show that they agreed with his remarks, the first time that they stopped hiding behind the pretence that their agenda was purely about the relief of physical end of life suffering.


  1. I'm with you on this. I am also disabled but my son's still see me as their mum, my nieces and nephews still see me as their Auntie Jay, my mum still sees me as her little girl *blush*, and most important of all, my husband still sees me as his wife :) That's all that matters to me - no-one should have any say as to how a person should die, and when. We convict murderers, would the doctors who performed the act of killing be convicted? Could they actually go on and treat patients after doing such an awful thing? Could they actually live with what they had done?
    Do No Harm - a doctor would be breaking this first rule and could actually get a strange taste for the high they would feel when killing someone.

    1. I'm a vet and there is no high from euthanasia. We all do it with a heavy heart but knowing we are ending suffering. Why shouldn't people be given the right to have their suffering ended reapectfully and peacefully

  2. Excellent piece. And pretty much precisely the blog I was intending to write tonight, so you've saved me a bunch of spoons there!

  3. I don't know what you think will happen. You have your choice, that you still feel you have quality of life and something to offer. But some people don't. This is not a choice that will be taken lightly by anyone involved. When a person is suffering with no hope of improvement or respite then why is it not their right to decide with the consent of loving family and doctors to end the suffering.
    In the veterinary world we give animals the rrspect and compassion not to allow their suffering. We have the empathy and understanfing that it is against their welfare for them to suffer unduely when age, injury or disease prevents them from having quality of life. Why do we bestow this right on animals and not people.
    People have the right to choose and with the right protection in place it is not a decision that will be or can be taken lightly.

    1. I always find it bizarre when people insist that it's all about choice while holding up the euthanasia of animals as a model for the compassionate treatment of people. Animals get no choice at all in the matter. In addition, by suggesting by implication that assisted suicide should be an option "when age, injury or disease prevents them from having quality of life," you are in fact confirming the whole point of the post, that people will push for this to go far beyond only terminal illness.

  4. I am with you on this for many reasons, but one is that as doctors already make mistakes, are already overworked and overstretched how can one possibly give them this added responsibility?

    As I have been told over and over again this bill only applies to people who have cognition and have only months to live and the person has to administer the cocktail to them self - now a person who has all that capacity surely could arrange their own suicide without intervention of their doctor? and that is not illegal.

    I believe this bill is just a step toward legalising full blown euthanasia. this is unconscionable in my opinion as a thinking caring human person

  5. I suspect the author of this article and those who agree with her fail to understand the bill. It is to help teminally ill people end their suffering. Where exactly does it mention that it will allow disabled people with quality of life to end their lives?? I suspect religious issues are at play here - which frankly have no place in policy making.

    1. I do not oppose it for religious reasons. I find it bizarre that instead of considering and debating my argument you choose to dismiss it by assuming I have some ulterior motive.
      I understand the bill perfectly. My worry is that the majority of those voting and campaigning for it do not and will therefore push for it to be extended. I think I made that quite clear in my post.
      Even among the few people commenting here one is by implication saying it will apply to non terminal people.

  6. Steve Alexander18 July 2014 at 04:03

    Thank you for this post - very helpful to think about this.