LONDON: Changing the
law on assisted suicide would put pressure on disabled people to kill themselves,
according to new research. The new Comres poll found that 70 per cent of disabled
people were concerned that such a change would lead to ‘pressure being placed on
disabled people to end their lives prematurely’

The survey, commissioned
by Scope, the leading disability charity, also showed that over one in three (35%)
disabled people believed any move to decriminalise assisted suicide would place
that sort of pressure on them personally.

Amongst blind and visually
impaired people the figure was 49%.

Over half (56%) of all
disabled people surveyed also said it would mean that it would be ‘detrimental to
the way that disabled people are viewed by society as a whole’.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, is reported in the Daily Telegraph as saying:

‘Assisted suicide is
a complex and emotional issue, and there are loud and passionate voices on both
sides of the debate… But while high profile lawyers, doctors and celebrities such
as Terry Pratchett and Patrick Stewart grab the headlines, the views of the thousands
of ordinary disabled people who could be affected by this issue are rarely listened
to.

‘Our survey findings
confirm that concerns about legalising assisted suicide are not just held by a minority,
but by a substantial majority of those this law would affect.

‘Disabled people are
already worried about people assuming their life isn’t worth living or seeing them
as a burden, and are genuinely concerned that a change in the law could increase
pressure on them to end their life.’

Mr Hawkes also called
on the Government to establish a new independent commission to explore the question
of whether assisted dying should be legalised.

Lord Falconer’s highly controversial Commission on Assisted
Dying
, due to report this autumn, has been criticised for being ‘unnecessary,
unbalanced and lacking in transparency’.

In particular, whilst
the five leading disability rights groups in the UK (SCOPE, NCIL, UKDPC, RADAR and
Not Dead Yet) oppose any change in the law, the only disabled person on the panel
is an advocate for decriminalising assisted suicide who acts as a spokesperson for
Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

Under the Suicide Act
1961 those who ‘encourage or assist’ someone else to commit suicide may face a prison
sentence of up to 14 years. But the Director of Public Prosecutions, in new guidelines
issue in February 2010, has indicated that people who are ‘wholly motivated by compassion’
are less likely to face charges.

The fact that there have
been very few prosecutions under this new arrangement has worried disabled people’s
groups who are concerned that some people believe people with disabilities are better
off dead and will put subtle pressure on them to end their lives out of ‘misguided
compassion’.

They need a strong law
in place to act as a deterrent in order that they may feel safe. It was precisely
for this reason that the group ‘Not Dead Yet’ launched their ‘Resistance
Campaign’
last June aimed at stopping any further erosion of the existing
law.

Last November Margo Macdonald’s End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill,
which would have legalised both assisted suicide and euthanasia for disabled people
was rejected by the Scottish Parliament by an overwhelming majority of 85 to 16
after the general public expressed fears about disabled and other vulnerable people
being put under pressure to end their lives.

The latest poll result
will come as a blow to Dignity in Dying who have campaigned for a change in the
law.

Whilst they have insisted
that they want a change in the law only for mentally competent people who are terminally
ill, some of their spokespeople, amongst them multiple sclerosis sufferer and campaigner
Debbie Purdy, have been disabled but not dying.

This has raised serious
questions about their real agenda.


Dr Peter Saunders is a former general
surgeon and CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based
organisation with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members. This
article has been cross-posted from his blog, Christian
Medical Comment
.

I am CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organisation with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members.