This week sees the second reading of the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill (ADTI) Bill. There has been a growing campaign against the bill – involving disability organisations – claiming that it will lead to disabled people choosing to end their lives prematurely, perhaps even euthanasia on the basis of disability.
Although I agree with some of the arguments put forward – that many disabled people have low self-esteem, that there is a lack of universally effective palliative care and a lack of real choices for the poor – the only point that is relevant to the ADTI Bill is the lack of good end-of-life care.
This bill doesn’t promote assisted dying for disabled people, or even implicitly devalue us, because it isn’t about disabled people. It is aimed at people with terminal conditions – with less than six months to live – giving them a choice about how their lives will end. It ensures that the person is fully aware of all of the possibilities, and that they have the capacity to make an informed decision.
Doctors accelerate the death of an estimated 2,000 people each year in this country and at least 700 are “helped” to die without their consent. None of this is regulated or supervised. Some of these people will be disabled, and some of them won’t have had any part in making the decision to end their lives. If anything, this bill might protect disabled people. By clarifying when it is allowed to accelerate the process of dying, it also clarifies what is illegal.
Politically, it might increase the pressure for universal high-quality palliative care. This is what happened in Oregon: careful to avoid accusations of using legally assisted dying as a cheap alternative, it actually provides some of the best palliative care in the whole of the US.
Unlike the organisations that are meant to represent them, most disabled people believe that everyone should have a choice when they are terminally ill. When surveyed, nearly 80 per cent of those with disabilities support this bill, which is the same proportion as the general population.