ELECTION 2015: Greens agree to debate their backing for assisted suicide


The Green party has agreed to take part in a public debate with disabled activists on its pledge to legalise assisted suicide.

The challenge to debate the issue came from a leading member of the anti-assisted suicide campaign group Not Dead Yet UK (pictured), Dennis Queen, who said that she and many other members “who might well usually vote Green” would not do so now because of the party’s manifesto support for legalisation.

She also said that disabled people who were long-term members of the party were considering leaving the Greens because of their stance.

One of them, NDY UK member Simone Aspis, said she was “just hanging in there” with her membership, because she was “deeply concerned” with the party’s position on assisted suicide.

She said she was considering not voting for the Greens at Thursday’s general election, but said there was “no alternative” because of other parties’ past support for policies based on eugenics.

She said the Greens’ position on assisted suicide was “pretty outrageous” when it was also saying that it supported the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Aspis said: “The party is saying it supports disabled people’s rights to independent living and to mainstream education and yet hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that assisted suicide is open to abuse and it actually undermines disabled people’s rights to everything else.

“The UN convention is thinking about disabled people’s right to life, not to be killed.”

The party’s manifesto says a Green government would “provide the right to an assisted death within a rigorous framework of regulation and in the context of the availability of the highest level of palliative care”.

But it also promises that the Greens in government would enforce the UNCRPD, although it does not explain how this would be implemented.

Queen said: “I’m not sure there’s an article in the UN convention which isn’t broken by supporting the further legalisation of assisted suicide, and making it more easily accessible to people who are sick and disabled. 

“Try sentence one article one [‘The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity’].”

She added: “I challenge the Green party to have a public debate with Not Dead Yet UK on this subject. 

“We are not enjoying equal rights and freedoms if some of us are given special consideration leading to dissolved rights under the law.”

A Green party spokeswoman said: “The vast majority of opinion within the Green party’s disability and equalities group seems to be that it is right to support the UN disability convention, as well as the right to assisted dying within a rigorous and agreed framework.

“We do not see these things as incompatible.

“Our disability spokesperson, Mags Lewis, has said she is more than happy to agree to a meeting or public debate about this issue after the election.

“However, the Green party agrees policy at conference, where all members have an equal voice and vote, so that would be where policies are debated and amended.”

The challenge to the Green party stance came as the Scottish parliament’s health and sport committee published its report into proposals to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland.

The assisted suicide (Scotland) bill has been brought forward by the Green MSP Patrick Harvie, following the death last year of Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who introduced it in November 2013.

But the committee has now concluded that the bill contains “significant flaws” that present “major challenges as to whether the bill can be progressed”.

A majority of the committee do not support the bill’s “general principles”, but have chosen to make no formal recommendations to parliament because the issues are “a matter of conscience”.

The full Scottish parliament will now debate the bill and decide whether to agree to its general principles. The debate will take place by 29 May.  

Meanwhile, a disabled woman has secured the right to challenge in the courts a decision by the director of public prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales that she believes will make it easier for healthcare professionals to assist someone to kill themselves.

Lawyers for Nikki Kenward say that Alison Saunders, the DPP, exceeded her powers last year when she “clarified” the guidelines on when to prosecute a doctor or nurse for assisted suicide.

Saunders said in October 2014 that the section of the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines that explain when prosecution of a healthcare professional would be more likely refers only “to those with a specific and professional duty of care to the person in question”.

The anti-legalisation campaign group Care Not Killing said this would mean that doctors “who have made a name for themselves by assisting suicides in various ways whilst not being the patient’s primary care giver, are less likely to be prosecuted”.

There will now be a full judicial review of Saunders’ decision.

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