Assisted Suicide – the ongoing debate!

Slightly late posting this weeks news items. Two or three reasons for this, probably better described as excuses! First my grand-daughter had her first birthday this weekend so lots of celebrations as you might expect!! Anna was totally bemused by all the fuss and in line with other one year olds concentrated entirely on the wrapping paper, not the presents!! Second reason the b…..y car broke down again and is being removed by the RAC as we speak! Third reason, and the most serious, trying to respond to the flurry of programmes and editorial copy surrounding the assisted suicide debate. As chair of RADAR I have been trying to put across the point that until we can be completely sure that we are providing the very best support and palliative care services available to terminally ill people and their families the discussion about helping them to die is hugely premature! I don’t know if any of you caught the Channel 4 programme about Mo Mowlem. An interesting portrayal of someone and their family trying to cope with a terminal illness. Never any question that Mo wanted to end it all! However it seemed that she and her husband could avail themselves of a great deal of support which made her sad passing the more dignified. Not so for most families trying to deal with the same very difficult situation. Let me know what you think. Have a good week.
Campaigners fight again to hold the line on assisted suicide

Disability organisations have had to line up yet again against any weakening of the law on assisted suicide, following two high profile court cases and the publication of proposed new laws in Scotland.

Kay Gilderdale, from Stonegate, East Sussex, was cleared of attempted murder, having admitted a charge of assisting in the suicide of her disabled daughter, Lynn, who had chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). She was given a conditional discharge.

Frances Inglis, from Dagenham, east London, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life, and a recommended minimum of nine years in prison, after a court heard how she used a heroin overdose to kill her disabled son Tom, who had brain damage, because she felt his life was not worth living.

And Margo MacDonald MSP, who has Parkinson’s disease, published her end of life assistance (Scotland) bill, which would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.

Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify.

The disability charity RADAR said it was committed to the principle that “those who have a hand in the death of another person, regardless of that person’s disability or the stated motivation of the perpetrator, should have to answer for their actions before a court of law”.

It said that Tom Inglis’s impairment “did not give another person, even his mother, the right to take his life based on their own judgements”.

And it said that he had “the same rights to legal protection and justice as anyone else, and the prospect of setting out circumstances in which people whose lives are deemed by others to be intolerable can be stripped of those rights is chilling beyond measure”.

Caroline Ellis, RADAR’s joint deputy chief executive, whose teenage son has CFS, said: “Singling out individuals for legalised killing based on their medical condition or prognosis would be discriminatory and repugnant.”

She said the “real outrage” was the lack of effective treatment or support for people with CFS and that she never wants her son to “feel like society is giving up on him”.

She added: “The idea that the law could be relaxed in future to encourage people to give up sends chills down my spine.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has yet to finalise its position on assisted suicide, but Mike Smith, the new chair of its disability committee, said he personally did not believe there were “adequate safeguards to protect disabled and older people to allow assisted dying”.

He said: “It is too easy for society to view disability as a negative thing and whilst that is the case there will be coercion and in the current world we live in and the negative views of disability, I have very grave reservations about relaxing laws on assisted dying.”

Alison Davis, national co-ordinator of No Less Human, which campaigns for disabled people’s right to life, said “sick and disabled people living in Scotland will immediately be viewed as suitable candidates for death” if MacDonald’s bill becomes law.

She said this would “inevitably” make it easier for similar laws to be passed elsewhere in the UK.

A poll last year for the Care Not Killing Alliance in Scotland found 65 MSPs were opposed to legalising assisted suicide, with 18 in favour and 24 undecided.
Improvements to equality bill will safeguard ‘holy grail’

A disabled peer has hailed improvements to the public sector equality duty – the “holy grail” of the equality bill – as a “huge breakthrough” in the fight to maintain disabled people’s protection from discrimination.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell introduced the amendments to strengthen the equality duty in the bill so it did not provide a lower level of protection than the Disability Discrimination Act’s disability equality duty.

Her amendments make clear that public authorities – such as local councils or NHS trusts – must not only have “due regard” to eliminating discrimination against disabled people but in doing so must take account of people’s impairments, even if that means treating them more favourably than non-disabled people.

Baroness Campbell said: “Reasonable adjustments tailored to our particular disability-related needs lie at the heart of disability equality. Without them, we are marginalised at the fringes of society.”

The bill as it stood previously could have led to public bodies “thinking that they need to do less to take account of the needs of disabled people than they do under the current disability equality duty…the consequences of that would be disastrous.”

Baroness Thornton, for the government, said it would “under no circumstances” want public bodies to “misinterpret the new duty as imposing lesser requirements than the existing disability duty”.

She said the government was happy to accept the amendments, which were agreed as the bill continued its committee stage in the House of Lords.

Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said the public sector duty was the most important part of the bill for disabled people, and that the amendments were “absolutely vital” as they ensure that public authorities know that disability “is different to all the other strands”.

Earlier this week, another disabled peer, Lord [Colin] Low, failed to persuade the government to remove the blanket ban on disabled people serving in the armed forces.

Lord Low told the Lords that the blanket ban was “based on a very narrow and outdated stereotype of disability”, that impairments such as severe disfigurement, diabetes and controlled epilepsy would not “necessarily disable a person from active service” and that “everyone should be considered on their merits”.

Baroness Royall said the government would “perhaps” work on his suggestion of drawing up a code of practice on employing disabled people that would meet the concerns of armed services chiefs. But she stressed that this would not be as a part of the equality bill.
Report finds nearly a third of disabled people in poverty

An independent report on income inequalities – commissioned by the government – has concluded that nearly a third of disabled people are living in poverty.

Official statistics previously estimated about a quarter of disabled people were in poverty, but An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK says the figure is probably more than 30 per cent.

This is because the report’s authors believe official measures of poverty should not count those disability benefits – such as disability living allowance – that help cover the extra costs of an impairment.

The report also concludes that there appears to be “straightforward discrimination in recruitment” affecting disabled people, particularly in the private sector.

It says recent experiments suggest that “those disclosing a disability are less likely to be called for interview than those with otherwise identical CVs”.

And it calls for a stronger government focus on boosting the employment of disabled people, particularly those with mental health conditions.

The report says the problem “is most intense” for those with low or no qualifications, and that employment rates for disabled men with low or no qualifications have “fallen considerably” in the last 25 years.

Nearly a third of working age adults who are disabled according to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) – and also have a condition that limits the work they can do – have no qualifications, compared with 12 per cent of non-disabled adults.

The report says the average (median) weekly income of men who are both DDA-disabled and have a work-limiting condition is less than half that of non-disabled men (£157 compared with £316 per week). The corresponding figures for women are £131 and £198.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission welcomed the report. Neil Kinghan, its director general, said: “The value of this report is how it pinpoints the combinations of circumstance that create the most acute instances of disadvantage: that as well as socio-economic class, race, gender, disability and other factors still matter very deeply.”

The commission will soon publish research on how employers can improve workplace support for disabled people, for example through reasonable adjustments, and particularly focusing on those with mental health conditions.

Susan Scott-Parker, chief executive of the Employers’ Forum on Disability, said the findings were “a stark reminder” of the barriers disabled people can face, and showed that employers must ensure their appraisal and promotion processes do not discriminate against disabled people.

But she warned that “any work to tackle inequality through employment policies needs to position employers as part of the solution, not the problem”.

News provided by John Pring at

Author: PhilFriend

Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) himself a wheelchair user, is acknowledged as the UK's foremost consultant on disability matters. A powerful and highly popular communicator, his company – Phil & Friends – has provided consultancy to many of the country's best-known companies. In addition to his professional activities, he is also a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general, where his special blend of humour and direct speaking has won admirers from around the world.

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