The Simon Heng Column

Last week Micheline Mason presented a strong argument against Lord Joffe’s Assisted Suicide Bill (“Suicide bill exposes the myth of choice”, 24 November). If I have understood her argument correctly, legally condoned assisted suicide could not be genuinely and freely chosen, because the choice would be coloured by the lack of real alternatives – universally effective palliative care, real choices for the poor, disabled people’s tendency to low self-esteem, reflecting society’s estimation of their worth. These, and other societal factors, would increase the chances that disabled people would be more likely to ask to die.

She states that: “Equality means we all get the same chance. We can decide to fight for better quality of service for everyone, or to fight for choice for a select minority”. This implies that, if everyone got the right service, no one would want to choose to die.

There is only so much that we as a society can do to alleviate suffering. Pain could be physical, due to chronic illness or the nature of someone’s disability – like multiple sclerosis, or motor neurone disease; or emotional, tracking the physical deterioration, pain and distress for oneself and one’s loved ones.

There are times when I have felt the sheer drudgery of leading the life of a severely disabled person. I have felt trapped and frustrated by the facts of my life: having to ask for help with every physical task, having to plan for every eventuality, monitoring my care arrangements, being stared at in public, and feeling emotionally distanced as a consequence of all of this. Sometimes, I want to be able to opt out, to stop having to think about all of these things.

If, for either of these reasons, I wanted to end my life, I would need someone’s help. And I should have the same choice as able-bodied people, to live, or to die in the way that I choose.

Disability rights campaigns are about fighting for a level playing field for people with disabilities. That should include the right to choose death, as well as how to live.

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