Law is about choice, not getting rid of disabled people

Disabled people are too self-regarding when, like Jamie Hale, they make out that legalising assisted dying is all about getting rid of disabled people (We’re told we are a burden. No wonder disabled people fear assisted suicide, 1 June). Nor is it, as Jamie suggests, about licensing the deliberate taking of someone else’s life. It is about giving terminally ill, mentally competent people the choice of an assisted death when palliative care no longer suffices. All importantly, the terminally ill person has to ask and two independent doctors have to agree.

Though they may overlap, terminally ill and disabled people are distinct groups. Being disabled myself and a lifelong campaigner for disabled people’s rights, I can testify that not all disabled people are opposed to assisted dying. In a 2015 Populus poll, 86% of disabled people supported the choice of assisted dying for terminally ill people.

Recent proposals for assisted dying legislation actually contain more safeguards against disabled people being officiously treated as terminally ill against their wishes than exist at the moment. Assisted dying legislation is about giving people choice and control at the end of life. This is what disabled people campaign for in every other aspect of life. Why would they not also wish for it at the end?

Colin Low
House of Lords

On assisted dying, Jamie Hale correctly says there is already a right to refuse medical treatment. This means that people who are dying and are kept alive by interventions can refuse them, and die. Yet those who are dying but are not reliant on medical interventions still cannot control the timing and manner of their death. This is surely unfair. Why should their only choice be to starve themselves to death? The Oregon law on assisted dying has not been widened in scope since 1997, and there is no evidence of abuse. That’s all we are asking for in UK: the same choice for a good death for people with terminal illness. It seems a contradiction that the disability rights movement campaigns for autonomy in every other area of life except this one, where it claims that dying disabled people are vulnerable and cannot decide for themselves.

I read with great disappointment Jamie Hale’s article on assisted dying. As so often is the case, the law change being proposed is being misunderstood. I have incurable cancer, and once I become terminally ill, in the last few weeks of my life, I wish I could have the choice to reduce my period of suffering by requesting an assisted death. The proposed law would safeguard against anyone other than a terminally ill, mentally competent adult from being able to request an assisted death. Safeguards would include two doctors to confirm diagnosis and mental competency and a high court judge to grant permission.

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