The head of a disability group has contradicted his organisation – and the views of thousands of disabled people – by voicing support for euthanasia.
Lord Rix, a former actor and President of learning disability charity Mencap, said his “position has changed” on euthanasia in light of his terminal illness.
Rix previously voted against an assisted suicide Bill when it came before the House of Lords, and Mencap was one of several disabled organisations that vigorously opposed a change in the law.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal in the UK, and euthanasia can be regarded as manslaughter or murder. The maximum penalty for it is life imprisonment. Assisting suicide carries a penalty of up to 14 years in prison.
In a letter to the House of Lords Speaker, Baroness D’Souza, Rix said he wants Parliament to act “as soon as possible” to change the law and allow terminally ill people to be euthanised.
The former actor, who featured in numerous TV shows from the 1950s onwards, wrote: “I can only ask that once again the House of Lords brings the UK up to date by allowing legal euthanasia after all other avenues have been pursued.”
Spokesman for anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing, Alistair Thompson, said: “The current position exists to safeguard vulnerable people from being preyed upon or feeling pressured into ending their lives. The law also exists to protect carers. It’s a very clear and sensible law.”
His request stands in marked contrast to the position of Mencap, which intervened in the debate on assisted suicide alongside other disability groups.
When an assisted suicide Bill was being considered by the Lords, Mencap and Scope co-signed a letter to Peers urging them to vote against the proposals.
Helping people to live with dignity and purpose must surely be our priority
It stated: “We strongly believe the Bill would seriously undermine our efforts and lead unnecessarily to the deaths of many people whom as a society we should be helping”.
The strength of feeling in the letter was echoed in the subsequent Lords debate, in which disabled Peer Baroness Campbell said assisted suicide “frightens” her.
She urged her colleagues to vote against the Bill saying: “Helping people to live with dignity and purpose must surely be our priority”.
The most recent attempt to change the law on assisted suicide was soundly defeated in the House of Commons on 11 September last year. MPs voted 330 to 118 against it after a lengthy debate.
The result came following pressure from disabled rights groups, the medical profession, a number of charities and religious leaders.