Where is the debate on suicide prevention for the disabled?

As two men go to the High Court to fight for the right to die, Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of disability charity Scope explains why he believes disabled people should not have the right to take their own lives.

This week we will hear the truly heart-breaking cases of two disabled people that want to kill themselves but can’t do it without someone’s help.

Assisted suicide is currently against the law.

The individuals, backed by lawyers and the Humanist Association want to make it legal for a doctor to help someone kill themselves in some circumstances.

The cases are unbearably tragic, but they cannot be the basis for changing a law that could affect millions.

Paul Lamb, daughter Lauren (left) and Jane, widow of Tony Nicklinson Credit: PA Wire

Many disabled people tell us they would be really worried if assisted suicide was legalised.

It comes back to the way disabled people feel society views them; that their lives are worthless and that they are a burden.

And you don’t need to look very far to see these attitudes expressed.

A Cornwall councillor recently stood down because he said some disabled children should be put down. He was re-elected.

The way the assisted suicide debate plays out is itself a good insight.

Why is it that when an abled bodied person wants to commit suicide we try to talk them out of it and offer them support. But when a disabled person wants to commit suicide we focus on how we can make that possible? Where is the national debate on suicide prevention for disabled people? If disabled people got the right support to live full and active lives would they feel the same?

The Scales of Justice at the Old Bailey Credit: PA Wire

For disabled people the current law on assisted suicide sends a really powerful message about these kind of negative attitudes. But more than that it prevents these attitudes from turning into something much worse. It’s a view backed up by legal figures.

Later in the week Lord Falconer will introduce a bill to the House of Lords also seeking to change the law. What is being proposed in this bill may be a step back from the recent high court challenge but it is by no means a moderate option. Previous bills have been rightly rejected. Hopefully the Lords will reject this one too.