Disabled people fear any change in the law that would weaken end-of-life protections, a disabled Peer has said.
In conversation with disability rights journalist James Moore, Baroness Jane Campbell said the weakening of assisted suicide law in Canada had alarmed disabled people in the UK.
Lady Campbell, who has spinal muscular atrophy and so uses a wheelchair and relies on a ventilator to help her breathe, is a committed advocate for the rights of disabled people.
Lady Campbell told Moore that the prospect of a law allowing people to get help to kill themselves “is very scary to disabled people in this country”.
She explained: “We depend on our doctors, on our caregivers, to give us help and support to live.”
Having faith in such people, she continued, “helps us to have hope and enables us to encounter and overcome the barriers we have in our lives”.
She feared for disabled people who may not have adequate support. “Without it”, she said, “you’re without hope. You’re a burden on those that you love, because even if they love you, it’s hard work.”
Reflecting on dangerous developments in Canada under its Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) procedures, Lady Campbell observed that the law was originally “strictly limited to people with terminal illness.
“It only took five years for that to be whittled away, so you have being a burden, being in pain, feeling you don’t have anything to live for starting to creep into the criteria.”
That, she added, “coupled with the rise in numbers from year one, from about 2,800 to more than 10,000 by 2021”, was a “red flag” to disability campaigners speaking out against assisted suicide here.
Recent data from the US state of Oregon shows 278 people died in 2022 “from ingesting” lethal drugs – the state’s highest annual assisted suicide death toll. Among reasons given by those seeking to end their own lives, 46 per cent cited feeling like a burden on family, friends or caregivers.
Attempts to legalise assisted suicide are under way in Scotland, Jersey and the Isle of Man.
In Westminster, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee is currently hearing evidence on access to palliative care, the role of medics in assisted suicide and eligibility criteria for such services.