Recently there has been a resurgence in the campaign for the right to die, with Margo MacDonald pushing forward the assisted suicide bill in Scotland.
As a disability rights campaigner, I have always sat on the fence with regards to the assisted suicide debate. I have no idea what it is like to live with a terminal illness, be in constant agonising pain or to suddenly lose a significant amount of functioning ability. Nevertheless, I do know what it’s like to live with a significant physical impairment – I know what it’s like to receive good support and to be part of my community and I also know what it’s like to cope with inadequate support, and the negative impact that has.
Against the backdrop of cuts to welfare, particularly palliative and social care, should we be pushing forward the right to die? The harsh facts are that cuts to care are going to increase in the next couple of years. Nearly 30% of hospices have already had their statutory funding cut and since 2007 there has been a 25% reduction in people receiving care at home. Many of us have already had our care packages dramatically reduced or withdrawn completely.
Across the UK, Councils are limiting home care visits to just 15 minutes, and up to 220,000 care workers receive less than the minimum wage – flouting employment law and compromising quality. A small glimmer of hope has been the introduction of £3.8b Better Care Fund, an integrated social and health fund to fill the gap. However there is concern that this fund will be insufficient and inappropriately used by councils.
Until we can offer people appropriate care and “right to life”, how can we ethically offer them “the right to death”?
There is an assumption that impairment makes people suicidal because it compromises quality of life. This is particularly assumed in the cases where people have impairments which are considered “severe”, such as locked in syndrome. But according to this survey published in the BMJ, three-quarters of people with locked in syndrome were “happy” and only 7% had suicidal thoughts.
The most common reason people commit suicide is depression, and the biggest contributors to depression are social isolation and lack of choice and control. To put it bluntly if you can’t choose when to get up, what underwear to put on in the morning, and who helps you put them on, you will probably feel disempowered and fed up. Fair enough, you may still feel thoroughly fed up even with all the support, but you will DEFINITELY feel utterly miserable without it. And this is my point.
This blog is not necessarily a supporter of the Not Dead Yet campaign, however reports show that there is a direct correlation between welfare cuts and assisted suicide. Disability rights academics, such as Paul Longmore, argue that in the US assisted suicide rates have a reciprocal relationship with welfare cuts.
Image from Nash & Selway’s latest photography project about the impact of welfare cuts on disabled people in the UK. – Hanging in the Balance. #hanginginthebalance[/ezcol_1third_end]