Disabled people's leaders launched a new campaign in Westminster on 3 June calling for better support and opposing any change in the law to allow 'assisted dying'. Not Dead Yet UK's (1) 'Resistance' campaign (2) has been prompted by fears that calls to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia are likely to intensify. These fears have grown with current economic difficulties and calls from politicians from all parties for cuts in public services.
The campaign is backed by three of the UK's largest disabled people's organisations (Radar, UKDPC and NCIL). It calls on the country's 650 MPs to sign a seven point charter recognising that disabled and terminally ill people should have the same legal protection as everyone else, and committing themselves to supporting access to health and social services and to opposing attempts to legalise assisted suicide.
Campaigners argue that high profile cases of disabled people who want the law changed to make assisted suicide easier are the exception rather than the rule. They are particularly concerned about recent attempts to change the law. These include Lord Falconer's amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill, which was aimed at decriminalising taking 'loved ones' abroad for assisted suicide; and Margo MacDonald MSP's End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, (3) presently before the Scottish Parliament, which includes in its catchment people who are 'permanently physically incapacitated to such an extent as not to be able to live independently and find life intolerable'.
The Falconer amendment was defeated in July 2009, at least in part because of a passionate speech by Not Dead Yet's convenor, disabled peer Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton. This was accompanied by a letter from over 30 disabled people's leaders from both sides of the Atlantic, urging Britain's upper House to reject the amendment. (4)
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer removed from his definitive guidance this February a clause making disability a mitigating factor for assisted suicide prosecutions after an outcry from disabled people claiming that the measure was profoundly discriminatory.
The launch of the 'Resistance' campaign has been supported by the Care Not Killing Alliance, 5 who at the same time have launched a new DVD featuring disabled people arguing for the right to life. Members of the new coalition government may be reluctant to sign a charter committing themselves to maintain spending at a time of national financial belt-tightening but, if nothing else, the Resistance Campaign has created a fascinating new division in the debate. One cannot now easily be both pro-disabled people and pro-euthanasia.