A disabled peer has delivered her fiercest attack yet on those pressing for the legalisation of assisted suicide.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell was speaking in the latest Lords debate, in which the Labour peer Lord Warner called for an independent inquiry into a possible change in the law.
The debate came two days after the author Sir Terry Pratchett delivered the annual Richard Dimbleby Lecture on BBC One, in which he called on the government to set up assisted suicide tribunals that could give people legal permission to end their lives.
Lord Warner said “survey after survey for a decade or more” had shown public support for a change in the law and that Parliament “lags behind public opinion on this issue”.
But Baroness Campbell said Sir Terry’s views were “at odds with that of thousands of other terminally-ill and disabled people, who want Parliament to concentrate on better support to live, not to die”.
She said that, although the majority of the population may share his views, Sir Terry “did not speak for disabled and terminally-ill people”.
And she told peers that not one organisation of or for disabled and terminally-ill people supported a change in the law.
Baroness Campbell said the campaign for legalisation was being “waged by people fearful of disability and terminal illness” and mostly by those who were not disabled or terminally-ill themselves.
And she said the “relentless pressing for a change in the law” sent the message to those newly diagnosed that they would not be able to cope or adjust and would “enter a living hell” and “should consider a premature death”.
She added: “The ignorance of that approach astounds me.”
The pro-life crossbench peer Lord Alton said a change in the law would “endanger public safety and put disabled people at risk”, and “the right to die would rapidly become the duty to die”.
Lord Joffe, who has previously introduced his own assisted suicide bill in the Lords, said “the 80 per cent of society in our democracy who consistently support assisted dying” were “entitled” to the inquiry, so the issue could be “calmly and objectively considered, based on research and evidence, rather than on conjecture and speculation about what might happen by those who hope that it will not”.
But Lord Bach, the junior justice minister, said there was “little prospect” of the government setting up an independent inquiry during the final months of this parliament and it had “made clear” that any change to the law was “an issue of individual conscience” for peers and MPs.
4 February 2010