Disabled activists have spoken of their shock and alarm after 18 police and crime commissioners (PCCs) signed a letter calling for a change in the law on assisted suicide.
The 18 politicians, who have all been elected to oversee how crime is tackled in their police force area, have signed an open letter to justice secretary Robert Buckland.
In the letter, they point to recent cases involving older people, which they say have led to concern about the “blanket ban” on assisted suicide, and which they say has caused “distress, confusion and pain for dying people, their loved ones, and even the investigating police officers themselves”.
But Not Dead Yet UK, the leading disabled people’s campaign group opposing the legalisation of assisted suicide, said the letter appeared to suggest that older people should be exempt from the law on assisted suicide, which it said was “wholly wrong”.
It said the current law was an “essential safeguard”.
The PCCs tell Buckland in the open letter that they want an inquiry into how the law on assisted suicide should change, and point out that his predecessor David Gauke had told a campaigner that he supported calls for reform.
The letter was signed by the 18 PCCs after a call for a change in the law in the Guardian newspaper by Ron Hogg, the police, crime and victims’ commissioner for Durham.
Hogg, who is newly diagnosed with motor neurone disease, told the newspaper last month that he had become “very depressed” at his condition, and had been thinking since his diagnosis about being helped to take his own life.
He told the Guardian: “It’s about your quality of life, your ability to enjoy life.
“I look at myself now and certainly become very depressed in many regards with my condition, and I can see that as things deteriorate, the life that you have, is it the life you really want, the life you think you should be leading?”
The letter calls for an inquiry into the “blanket ban” on assisted suicide and has been signed by Hogg, and 17 other PCCs, including those for Dorset; Avon and Somerset; Surrey; Gwent; Merseyside; Thames Valley; West Yorkshire and North Yorkshire.
But the letter has caused alarm among disabled campaigners opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, co-founder of Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), said her organisation was “surprised and shocked that some PCCs do not support the current law prohibiting assisted suicide.
“The current law is an essential safeguard not only for terminally-ill and disabled people but also their families, friends and the professionals who care for them.
“It provides support for all against the inference, whether well-intentioned or malign, that terminally-ill and disabled people should be treated differently in law from the rest of the population.
“The Crown Prosecution Service is clear that it will only prosecute the law when it is in the public interest to do so.
“By the examples used in their letter, the PCCs appear to suggest that elderly people should be exempt from the law. That is not protecting them.
“We know that many elderly people are fearful of the future and the potential for them to be isolated, neglected or even abused.
“To suggest that assisted suicide is one solution to such fears is wholly wrong. The PCCs would do better to what they can to reduce such fears by using their energies to tackle the very real issues that concern elderly people.”
Nikki Kenward, campaign director of The Distant Voices, a user-led campaign group which opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide, said PCCs should not be allowing themselves to be “drawn into the rights and wrongs” of assisted suicide, given the “murky waters” surrounding the issue.
She said they should be representing “all people, not just the ones that they agree with” and certainly not Hogg’s “emotive and subjective wishes”.
She said: “The top-down nature of policing requires our elected officials to remain apolitical and so avoid such incendiary topics, since the message to the thin blue line might be interpreted as ‘not important, leave all stones unturned’.”
She said Hogg had presented a “black and white vision of the world” that was “devoid of empathy”.
She said: “He’s got it all worked out: change the law and to hell with the consequences. A few safeguards and it’ll all be sorted.
“Those of us who have wandered into the shades of grey know, without a shadow of doubt, that life isn’t like that.
“Even a cursory glance at the shenanigans in Switzerland or Oregon can see that this sort of killing just isn’t safe.”
She added: “As for his supporters, shame on them for putting the fear of God in me.
“Somewhere, in a bedroom or old people’s home, there’s some abhorrent creature, relative or even care worker, chuffed to bits at the thought that the police won’t even turn up if poor Mr or Mrs ‘Someone’ doesn’t make it through the night.”
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