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Actress Liz Carr: 'We need an Assisted Living Bill, not an Assisted Dying Bill'

Writing for ITV News, Silent Witness actress and disability campaigner Liz Carr argues why legalising assisted suicide would lead to "mistakes and abuse".

She is a supporter of the campaign group Not Dead Yet.

Liz Carr, the actress, comedian and activist. Credit: Liz Carr

I’m not religious, I’m not anti-choice and yet I, along with many other disabled people who are involved in the international organisation Not Dead Yet, oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide.

We believe that if the Assisted Dying Bill passes, that some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes and abuse.

No safeguards have ever been enacted or proposed that can prevent this outcome – which can never be undone. The only guaranteed safeguard is to not legalise assisted suicide.

And we’re not alone in thinking this.

Not one organisation of disabled people supports assisted suicide and the majority of doctors, i.e. those who would be licensed under this bill to provide the lethal drugs, do not want this bill passed either.

The British Medical Association, the Royal Colleges of Physicians, General Practitioners and Surgeons, the Association for Palliative Medicine and the British Geriatric Society, all oppose changing the law.

As someone who has spent a lot of her life needing extensive health care, I am relieved to hear this. I wouldn’t be alive without the NHS but I recognise that it is currently understaffed and under resourced. Against a backdrop of longer shifts, difficulty in obtaining appointments and the rationing of certain treatments, should we really be pushing further pressures onto our reluctant doctors?

The law before Parliament is partly based on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act which has legalised physician assisted suicide since 1997.

We’re told there’s been no problems with this law but that is to ignore the experiences of Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup. Both Oregonians with terminal cancer, their life extending drugs were denied to them based on cost. Instead, they were offered a range of choices, including cheaper drugs to enable them to end their life.

If you think this wouldn’t happen in England, it already is. Changes to England’s Cancer Drugs Fund mean that from April 2015, new cancer patients have been denied a number of expensive treatments that were previously available on the NHS. The fund normally supports palliative treatment, enabling people with metastatic cancers to access drugs that can add several months to their lives. From April however, only people who are already on the treatments in question will receive them whilst new patients will no longer be eligible.

So when supporters of these bills say they’re about individual choice, I have to disagree. They offer one particular choice - physician assisted suicide. People do have other choices at the end of their lives, like palliative and hospice care, yet these choices are currently being denied to people.

In a recent survey of attitudes to dying, two-thirds said they would prefer to end their life at home yet the UK still has some of the highest rates of hospital death among older people in Europe.

So before we get wrapped up in the notion of choice, perhaps we should be looking at how we can offer greater choice to all people at the end of their lives and not just the few who want a physician assisted death?

The Assisted Dying Bill would establish medically assisted suicide as an acceptable and even expected societal response to pain, disability, life limiting conditions and terminal illness. This is to ignore the social factors, such as poverty and lack of social care that can also create suffering in people’s lives.

Denied the support to live – or die - with dignity, is it any surprise that people feel they have no choice but to end their lives? What terminally ill and disabled people need is an Assisted Living not an Assisted Dying Bill.

Supporters of assisted suicide will tell you that the current law is broken but the current law is exactly where it needs to be when the consequences of making a mistake would be murder.

Safety of the many has to overrule the desires of the few. What is broken, however, are the social and health care support systems which are currently failing us all, both during and at the end of our lives.

Whether for or against this law, we all deserve as pain free and comfortable death as possible.

Legalising medically assisted suicide is not the solution.

  • Liz Carr's views do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News

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