Disability charities evade questions over support for assisted suicide


Organisations providing services to disabled people – including disability charities and a hospice – have evaded questions about their links with a commission that has called for assisted suicide to be legalised.

The Commission on Assisted Dying concluded last week that assisted suicide could “safely” be offered to people who are terminally-ill, if they are believed to have less than a year to live, are over 18 and satisfy certain other “eligibility criteria”.

The report was described by horrified disabled activists as a “major attack on disabled people”.

Only one of the 11 commissioners refused to back the report’s conclusions, while several others – who all backed legalisation – have close links with organisations providing services to disabled people.

These include Dr Carole Dacombe, medical director of St Peter’s Hospice in Bristol; Baroness [Barbara] Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK; and Professor Sam Ahmedzai, a professor of palliative medicine at the University of Sheffield and head of the academic unit of supportive care at its School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Others include Baroness [Elaine] Murphy, a vice-president of the Alzheimer’s Society; and Dame Denise Platt, chair of the National AIDS Trust (NAT).

St Peter’s Hospice declined to comment on whether it was comfortable with its medical director publicly backing the legalisation of assisted suicide.

A hospice spokeswoman said: “We do not want to make a comment about it. I do not need to explain why we will not be making a comment.”

A spokesman for Diabetes UK refused to comment on whether it was comfortable with its chief executive publicly backing the legalisation of assisted suicide.

Instead, he said the charity did not believe there was a conflict of interest with Baroness Young taking part in the commission.

A University of Sheffield spokesman said Professor Ahmedzai joined the commission “in his own right as an expert in palliative care and care in the last months of life, not as a representative of the university”.

But he was unable to say whether the university was comfortable with Professor Ahmedzai backing the legalisation of assisted suicide.

The Alzheimer’s Society said Baroness Murphy’s position as a vice-president was an “honorary” role, and she was not a spokeswoman for the charity and was “entitled to viewpoints independent from those of the society”.

She added: “Alzheimer’s Society does not support a change in the law on euthanasia or assisted dying.

“However, we welcome a debate on all end-of-life issues and consult our members on an ongoing basis to ensure our position reflects their views on this important matter.”

A National AIDS Trust (NAT) spokeswoman said the charity was comfortable with the position Dame Denise had taken.

Deborah Jack, NAT’s chief executive, had earlier said in a statement that the charity had “no position” on Dame Denise’s membership of the commission because it had “not so far been relevant to our work as an HIV policy and campaigning organisation, nor has it been brought to our attention by people living with HIV, or organisations supporting them”.

But Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, the former Disability Rights Commission’s commissioner with responsibility for Wales, and a spokesman for Not Dead Yet UK – the campaigning network of disabled people opposed to legalisation – said these organisations linked to the commission would be “understandably embarrassed” and disabled people would now avoid them “like the plague”.

He added: “The last thing you want is a doctor coming to your bedside who you know has already spoken out in favour of assisted suicide.”

12 January 2012