Campaigners fight again to hold the line on assisted suicide


Disability organisations have had to line up yet again against any weakening of the law on assisted suicide following two high profile court cases and the publication of proposed new laws in Scotland.

Kay Gilderdale, from Stonegate, East Sussex, was cleared of attempted murder, having admitted a charge of assisting in the suicide of her disabled daughter, Lynn, who had chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). She was given a conditional discharge.

Frances Inglis, from Dagenham, east London, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life, and a recommended minimum of nine years in prison, after a court heard how she used a heroin overdose to kill her disabled son Tom, who had brain damage, because she felt his life was not worth living.

And Margo MacDonald MSP, who has Parkinson’s disease, published her end of life assistance (Scotland) bill, which would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.

Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify.

The disability charity RADAR said it was committed to the principle that “those who have a hand in the death of another person, regardless of that person’s disability or the stated motivation of the perpetrator, should have to answer for their actions before a court of law”.

It said that Tom Inglis’s impairment “did not give another person, even his mother, the right to take his life based on their own judgements”.

And it said that he had “the same rights to legal protection and justice as anyone else, and the prospect of setting out circumstances in which people whose lives are deemed by others to be intolerable can be stripped of those rights is chilling beyond measure”.

Caroline Ellis, RADAR’s joint deputy chief executive, whose teenage son has CFS, said: “Singling out individuals for legalised killing based on their medical condition or prognosis would be discriminatory and repugnant.”

She said the “real outrage” was the lack of effective treatment or support for people with CFS and that she never wants her son to “feel like society is giving up on him”.

She added: “The idea that the law could be relaxed in future to encourage people to give up sends chills down my spine.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has yet to finalise its position on assisted suicide, but Mike Smith, the new chair of its disability committee, said he personally did not believe there were “adequate safeguards to protect disabled and older people to allow assisted dying”.

He said: “It is too easy for society to view disability as a negative thing and whilst that is the case there will be coercion and in the current world we live in and the negative views of disability, I have very grave reservations about relaxing laws on assisted dying.”

Alison Davis, national co-ordinator of No Less Human, which campaigns for disabled people’s right to life, said “sick and disabled people living in Scotland will immediately be viewed as suitable candidates for death” if MacDonald’s bill becomes law.

She said this would “inevitably” make it easier for similar laws to be passed elsewhere in the UK.

A poll last year for the Care Not Killing Alliance in Scotland found 65 MSPs were opposed to legalising assisted suicide, with 18 in favour and 24 undecided.

27 January 2010

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