Welsh Paralympic athlete Tanni Grey-Thompson has told the House of Lords of her fear that legalising assisted dying for the terminally ill would lead to some disabled people feeling pressurised into ending their lives.
There is a myth that our lives are so tragic or painful that we must want to end them. Just this week I was told, “You must have wanted to kill yourself many times in your life”. No, I have not. I have experienced excruciating pain. When I was 19, I snapped a metal rod off my spine that came out through my skin, but I have never considered killing myself. The fact is, however, that many people expected that I would ask for that. What if those people were related to me?
Some of the cases highlighted in the media concern people who are not terminally ill and would supposedly not fit the terms of the Bill. However, this raises concerns that this is just the tip of the iceberg or an attempt to soften public opinion. The charity Care has shown that those who support the Bill in principle change their mind when they are presented with the reality of assisted suicide. Then the percentage of those who support it drops from 73% to 43%.
The first two Welsh peers to speak in the debate on the Assisted Dying Bill took opposite points of view. A change in the law was backed by the former Plaid Cymru Leader Dafydd Wigley, who has long campaigned for the rights of disabled people and who lost two sons to a terminal illness.
Those lucky enough to have the material resources and family support can go to Switzerland to end their lives, whereas those without the resources or family support have to struggle on from day to day, suffering pain and anguish with no means of relief in their reach.
The existing prohibition on medical assistance to die causes some terminally ill people to take matters into their own hands, without adequate support, and some relatives to risk prosecution for helping a loved one die.
Disability issues have been high on my agenda throughout my parliamentary career. I am clearly uneasy if this legislation causes anxiety to some disabled people. The Bill is geared not to disability, but to terminal illnesses, which generally are totally unrelated to disability.
– Lord Wigley
The bill was strongly opposed by Baroness Finlay, the Cardiff doctor who was sent to the House of Lords in recognition of her work in caring for the terminally ill.
It is not about a right to die. Everyone will die. If you do not want treatment that might prolong your life, you can refuse it. For those with motor neurone disease on a ventilator who want to stop treatment, we can manage their dying peacefully and gently as they die of their illness.
I have seen the strongest people, including politicians and senior doctors, be the most vulnerable when facing dying—vulnerable to coercive influence and vulnerable to their fears. The role of my profession is to address those fears and to support those people, not to encourage them, even silently, to believe that they should foreshorten their lives.
Today’s doctors are worn down by workload. They do not know their patients in detail. They know only what they are told in a brief encounter. They cannot possibly detect coercion from family.
A record number of peers will today debate a bill, which would make it legal for adults in Wales and England to be given help in ending their lives.
The Assisted Dying Bill, drawn up by former Labour Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, proposes giving terminally ill patients, with less than six months to live, the right to request an assisted death - by using lethal drugs.
The patient would have to have a settled intent to die, be of sound mind, and two doctors would have to approve.
One man from the Conwy Valley is in favour of the bill.
Aled Owen's wife Janet had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). She travelled to an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland to take her own life.
But Aled said if she had had the opportunity to do that here, her decision might have been different.
The discussion has already caused much debate, with many high-profile people like Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson opposing the move.