Disability rights activists gathered with signs protesting doctor-assisted dying

Frequently Asked Questions

Click any question to read the official response from NDYUK.

Campaigners for ‘assisted dying’ in the UK say they want to change the law for terminally ill people, not for people with disabilities. So why should people with disabilities feel threatened by the campaigning?

Terminal illness and disability are not mutually exclusive. Many people who are terminally ill are disabled people of one sort or another as well. And, in any case, though the campaigners say they want to change the law only for the terminally ill, they are supporting the campaigning of Debbie Purdy, who wants the law to be changed for her but who isn’t terminally ill. Moreover, if you look north of the border, you will see that Margo MacDonald is trying to get a bill passed by the Scottish Parliament that would legalise assisted suicide or euthanasia for anyone who is physically incapacitated to the extent of not being able to live without the support of others. Do you still say that people with disabilities aren’t threatened?

But why shouldn’t mentally competent adults who are seriously ill and suffering have the choice of physician-assisted suicide if they want it? After all, no one is going to be forced to have it.

Assisting a suicide is a serious matter. The law we have is there to protect us from malicious manipulation by others, who may have an interest in seeing us dead, and from ourselves too – from harming ourselves because we are depressed or feel a burden on others. It’s all very well to talk glibly about being mentally competent, but serious illness and disability are stressful experiences. It’s one thing to say whether someone who wants to ‘end it all’ is compos mentis, but it’s perfectly possible to be compos mentis and still be suffering from depression. The so-called safeguards that are being talked about may sound reassuring to the layman, but a select committee of Parliament was told by experts five years ago that they are far from being foolproof.

But isn’t it true to say that legalised assisted suicide is working well in Oregon?

No, it isn’t! The death rate in Oregon from assisted suicide has nearly quadrupled in the 12 years the law has been in force: if the same numbers were translated to Britain, we would be looking at nearly 1,000 assisted suicides a year. Then there is the practice of ‘doctor shopping’ – people asking their doctors for assisted suicide but being refused and going from one doctor to another until they find a compliant one – who knows little about them beyond their case notes and who is, by definition, someone who supports the practice. And recent research has shown that people suffering from depression are getting through the net in Oregon and being given suicide drugs by a minority of doctors. Is this the sort of thing we want to see happening here in Britain?

Public opinion supports a change in the law. What right have you to oppose it?

Public opinion supported going to war in 1914 and appeasement in the 1930s; and opinion polls now regularly show support for the return of capital punishment and banning all immigration. You can’t safely decide complex and controversial issues like this on the basis of opinion polls.

It’s all very well asking people hypothetical questions in opinion polls. As a select committee on ‘assisted dying’ was told by experts five years ago, most people know little about the subject apart from the sensationalist stories they read in the press and their responses can often be ‘kneejerk’ reactions to loaded questions about ‘choice’ and ‘suffering’. But, as people with disabilities, we are the people in the firing line who would be put at risk if the law were to be changed.

But isn’t the law as it stands cruel?

The law we have has a stern face but an understanding heart. It holds serious penalties in reserve to deter abuse and manipulation. But, where assisted suicide does occur, the Crown Prosecution Service looks at the evidence carefully and, where it is clear that assistance has been reluctant and in response to persistent requests by a suffering individual, charges are not brought. It combines deterrence with compassion: it gives us the best of both worlds.

What the campaigners want to do is to replace this with a licensing system in advance. But enabling laws have a habit of encouraging the acts they enable. And, in any case, once an act of assisted suicide had been licensed, who is to say that no coercion or pressure has been applied before the act is actually carried out.

Activists from Not Dead Yet UK are gathered with signs reading "Assisted Suicide is Not the Solution" and "Don't Give Doctors a Licence to Kill."

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Not Dead Yet UK (NDYUK) is a network of disabled people in the UK who have joined a growing international alliance of disabled people, who oppose the legalised killing of disabled people. 

All those involved are disabled people including people with physical and sensory impairments, learning difficulties, and mental health conditions.

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