A disability leader has warned that vulnerable individuals need support and encouragement instead of help to commit suicide.
Phil Friend, chairman of the Royal Association for Disability Rights, cautioned that any change in the law would “create a class of people from whom legal protection can be taken away”.
Mr Friend said that instead of changing our laws “we should ensure the individuals and their families are given all the support possible.”
He continued: “Their quality of life would then be enhanced, making assisted suicide a less attractive option.”
Writing in The Times newspaper Mr Friend also warned that recent media coverage “threatens to skew public opinion dangerously in favour of a change in the law”.
The disability campaigner also noted that disabled people are often dependent upon other people, which could endanger them if assisted suicide was ever to become legal.
Mr Friend said: “They are often placed in situations where other people have a great deal of power and influence over them, and a lot of unsupervised access.
“To exempt individuals from legal scrutiny if they assist the person in their care to commit suicide would leave already vulnerable people at greater risk.”
Mr Friend’s comments come in the wake of a series of high profile stories about assisted suicide in the media.
Last week Sir Terry Pratchett gave a controversial BBC lecture in which he called for the creation of assisted suicide tribunals.
But Mr Friend dismissed this idea, saying: “Setting up tribunals that grant a licence to kill opens the door to abuse — what if the person changes their mind, but the person assisting them doesn’t?
“Presuming friends and relatives of terminally ill and disabled people will always act in their best interests is naive and dangerous.”
Two opinion polls on assisted suicide, commissioned by the BBC and The Daily Telegraph, were published last week. They appeared to indicate that most respondents were in favour of weakening the UK’s assisted suicide laws.
But Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, said that we must ignore celebrity campaigns for assisted suicide, and instead listen to the voices of disabled people and the silent majority.
The Archbishop said: “I would rather listen to the voices of disabled people than to the voices of celebrities or the voices of 1,000 people in an opinion poll.”
Last year the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales, Keir Starmer QC, issued draft guidelines to explain the circumstances under which he is likely to prosecute a case of assisted suicide.
The DPP’s final guidance for England and Wales will be published in Spring 2010.