A hospital’s recommendation that life-saving treatment should be
denied to a patient because he has learning difficulties is
symptomatic of the way that disabled people are still too often
viewed in our society.
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss rightly concluded in her landmark
decision in the High Court that people with learning difficulties
should receive the same treatment as anybody else. That this
assault on the basic right to life should have occurred in the
first place shows how readily disabled people can be written off
even now that there is an active user movement.
More fundamentally, perhaps, the hospital’s recommendation
illustrates the extent to which the voice of disabled people is
barely audible to people in power. In this week’s issue we also
consider the other side of the coin, whether there is a right to
die, and the notable struggle of some disabled people to exercise
control over the manner of their death.
Of course, the right to live and the putative right to die make
strange bedfellows. But if we believe in rights-based welfare,
disabled people’s arguments concerning both must surely be heard.
For that to happen, they must be able to escape from the shadow of
the professionals who rule over their lives.