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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Disability rights group urges Prime Minister to halt assisted suicide Bill

Disability rights campaigners have urged David Cameron to rethink his decision to give Tory MPs a free vote on a Bill to legalise assisted suicide.

In a letter delivered to 10 Downing Street, the activists said the Bill would enshrine in law “fatal discrimination” against them.

They reminded the Prime Minister that not a single major charity for the disabled supported the Bill, which will be introduced by Labour MP Rob Marris on September 11, and asked him to be more strident in defeating it.

They asked Mr Cameron to meet them personally “to hear our evidence-based concerns and how they are so integrally associated with this terrible desire to offer State sanction to assisted suicide”.

“Disabled people more than any other group are under threat,” the activists said, adding that the Bill would put Britain on a slippery slope toward full-scale euthanasia and that “we will have the full panoply of a Belgium in just a few years”.

Liz Carr oneAmong the signatories to the letter were Paralympian gold medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson, Silent Witness actress Liz Carr (pictured), who comes from the Wirral, and Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, the disabled equality and human rights commissioner.

All are members of Not Dead Yet UK, a group which describes itself as the leading disabled people’s organisation opposing assisted suicide and euthanasia.

They told Mr Cameron they were “grateful” for his stated personal opposition to the Marris Bill.

But they added: “We are however deeply concerned about the intention to have a free vote at that time.

“That such that a law might be passed with such consequences, especially for vulnerable and disabled people, on the strength of individual conscience, is very worrying indeed.”

They continued: “Through rigorous research, we have gathered a body of evidence that such laws are not only dangerous, leading to the deaths of disabled people, but they also fundamentally depend on the stated views of their architects in other jurisdictions, that our disabled lives are ‘not worth living’.

“This is paradigmatic disability discrimination – fatal discrimination in this instance.”

They said the Bill would not apply to just a few hard cases because the “extension of the law’s reach, once passed, is almost immediate to those supposedly never intended to be ‘beneficiaries’ of them”.

“We see the lack of universally available best palliative and social care, and critically the right kind of human support, as core to what leads many people to despair of their futures, however long or short they may be,” the letter said.

“When the only choice available to someone in despair is death, we count that as no choice at all.

“The rhetoric around choice an autonomy is just that – rhetoric. Choice is an illusion, and the proposed law places all the decision-making power in the hands of doctors anyway, removing it from patients.”

There has been an “abject failure” of safeguards wherever assisted suicide or euthanasia have been legalised, the campaigners added, including in Oregon, the U.S. State held up as a “paragon of such a law working well”.

“We are convinced that the law in Britain as it stands provides for those who are serious in their intent to die whilst protecting all those who become vulnerable when faced with such terrible end-of-life issues,” they said. “The best protection against these developments is keeping the first steps illegal.”

The group is also seeking an urgent meeting with Shadow Disabilities Minister Kate Green after the Labour MP announced she was in favour of the Private Member’s Bill.

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick of Not Dead Yet UK said her position, which stood in opposition to that of all the disability groups in the country, was “acutely” disturbing.

Mr Marris, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West, announced the Bill when he was drawn top of a ballot in the House of Commons.

It is based upon the Bill introduced into the House of Lords by the Labour peer Lord Falconer last year and it represents the first chance MPs have had to vote on assisted suicide since 1997.

Mr Marris has argued that the vast majority of the public is in favour of “terminally ill people who are of sound mind having choice at the end of life”.

“It is a choice that I would want for myself and I do not think we should be denying this to people who are facing an imminent death.”

But Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP for Congleton, said: “If this Bill becomes law, no safeguard can protect someone who feels a burden to their family or the NHS from feeling pressured – even if this is only internally – from asking for help to end their own life, against their own interests.”

The Bill is opposed by the British Medical Association, Royal College of GPs and Royal College of Physicians.

Last week the British Geriatrics Society also firmly rejected the Bill, warning that a legal prohibition on killing is a cornerstone of a civilised country.

Downing Street has indicated that it would not grant the Bill sufficient time to progress through Parliament.

Dignity in Dying, the group formerly called the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, is nevertheless urging its supporters to lobby MPs vigorously, while the Catholic Church has appealed to the faithful to actively oppose the Bill.

 

(Photo by Simon Caldwell)