Assisted dying bill: Disabled people have most to fear from ‘arm around the shoulder’


newslatestIf assisted suicide was legalised, disabled people would have most to fear from the widespread public attitude that they were “better off dead”, according to a disabled peer.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson was speaking during the committee stage of the Labour peer Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill, which resumed its progress through the House of Lords on 7 November.

The bill would make it legal for doctors to help end the lives of those they judged to be terminally-ill, if the individual requested such help.

The retired Paralympian, now a prominent disability rights campaigner and crossbench peer, was responding to concerns raised by another crossbench peer, Baroness Finlay, a professor of palliative medicine and the current British Medical Association president.

Baroness Finlay pointed out “just how vulnerable people are to suggestion [from their doctor or other clinician]and how easy it is for a consultation to steer down one road and in that process inadvertently forget the other therapeutic options that might be open, might need to be explored and might need a little bit of thinking outside the box”.

Baroness Grey-Thompson agreed and said she was particularly concerned about the “gentle suggestion that people should consider ending their lives – the arm around the shoulder”.

She said: “For me, this is about the constant drip-drip of, ‘You’re not worth it.’”

She told fellow peers about another opponent of the bill who “looked at me and sort of waved at the wheelchair and said, ‘Well, you must have considered killing yourself hundreds of times.’

“No, I have not, actually, and I think that it was a bit of a surprise to him.”

She added: “People do not realise that they are being demeaning. I think that they genuinely think that they are being empathetic, sympathetic and kind, but, actually, you are constantly being knocked down and told that you have no value and no worth.

“That is what is of much greater concern to me.”

She added: “It is the arm around the shoulder. It is that constantly being told, ‘You’d be better off dead.’ That is what disabled people face every single day.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson also raised concerns about how funding for health services had been cut in the US state of Oregon after it legalised assisted suicide.

She said: “In 1994, the Oregon medical assistance programme cut funding to 167 out of 700 health services.

“Four years later, assisted suicide started being referred to as a ‘treatment’.

“On the back of that, funding was cut to 150 services for disabled people.

“They started limiting funded doses of powerful pain medication and put barriers in the way of funding for anti-depressants.”

She told the debate that her fellow disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell had not been able to attend the debate because of a chest infection.

She said: “She is watching at home on her ventilator. We all know what a chest infection does for her prognosis.

“It immediately switches her from being OK to fitting in with the category of having less than six months to live [the category of person that the bill would cover if it became law].”

She said: “That is not a situation that I am very comfortable with.”

10 November 2014