Leading disabled activists have pledged to defeat the campaign to legalise euthanasia by winning “the big argument” rather than copying the “emotional” tactics of their opponents.
Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, of Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), told a House of Lords meeting that campaigners trying to weaken the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide were using “extreme cases” to play on the public’s “emotional reactions”. He said NDY UK did not want to “play the same game”.
NDY UK argues that legalisation would pressure people with life-limiting conditions to end their lives prematurely because of diminishing levels of social care support and to avoid becoming a burden on their families.
It also believes legalisation would reinforce attitudes that disabled people’s lives are not worth living.
Fitzpatrick, the Disability Rights Commission’s commissioner with responsibility for Wales throughout its seven-year existence, told the meeting: “We want to be clear that extreme cases make bad law, but the play on the emotional reactions of people to extreme cases is really difficult to counteract.”
He criticised the BBC’s decision to produce a documentary on assisted suicide in which the novelist Sir Terry Pratchett is filmed watching the death of a man with motor neurone disease at the notorious Dignitas clinic in Switzerland.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, convenor of NDY UK, said disabled campaigners opposed to a change in the law were fighting the financial resources of the main pro-assisted suicide charity, Dignity in Dying.
But she said disabled people were tired of having to expose their private lives to the media in order to persuade the public to oppose legalisation.
She said: “What disabled people are saying to me is: ‘I am not willing to prostrate my life in front of the tabloids anymore.’ We must win this on the argument.”
The meeting also heard from Dr Xavier Mirabel, president of France’s Alliance pour les Droits de la Vie (The Right to Life Alliance), which has spent 15 years campaigning to turn French public opinion away from the support for legalising euthanasia that had been fed by high-profile, “extreme”, “emotional” cases.
The oncology specialist explained how the alliance had grown from just three campaigners to an organisation able to distribute one million cards explaining the arguments against legalizing euthanasia in 50 towns across France.
This January, the campaign staged a demonstration of 700 people dressed in shrouds, who lay in the street outside the French Senate building as senators prepared to vote on a bill that would have legalized euthanasia. The Senate voted against the bill.
Mirabel said the alliance had also organised “micro demonstrations” of four or five people in towns across France, which secured huge coverage in local newspapers.
After the meeting, the BBC said the documentary, Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, was due to be aired in June. After the programme, it will stage a Newsnight debate that discusses “all sides of the issue”.
A BBC spokeswoman added: “The BBC doesn’t have a stance on assisted suicide, but we do think that this is an important matter of debate.
“Terry Pratchett is a public figure, and his journey is of particular significance at a time when assisted death is in discussion.”
5 May 2011