As disabled activists we have a key role in the debate on assisted dying. Having a disability generally means many of us have had to tackle barriers, discrimination and difficulties in gaining equal opportunities to those of our peers. Limited choice and lack of control of what we can do, what we can access and even what our bodies decide for us on an everyday basis are experiences that not too many people in our society will or have had.
This means we can empathise with terminally ill people who are facing an inevitable and imminent death. They too have bodies that are deciding their future for them. What they can do and the things they can access are getting less and less as time goes by.
Being disabled, we can empathise more but we cannot empathise completely. Terminally ill people are dying and we are living. Their lives are sadly coming to an end and our lives have a longer future ahead, a future we can control and live to its fullest and happiest. We have fought, rightly so, for the choice and control we have of our own lives today; we’ve still some way to go but we’re sure of the direction of travel; it’s more choice, it’s more control, it’s more independence.
The founding principles of the disability rights movement can be said to include autonomy and choice. They are principles of civil rights the world over and so why shouldn’t they be the principles and objectives of disabled people? They should be! However, as the current situation has shown terminally ill people have been denied these principles.
As we live our lives to the fullest we can, terminally ill people face their deaths with limited choice, no control of the pace or direction their bodies are taking. The limited alternatives they have for control over their deaths are not safeguarded. They don’t protect them, they don’t protect us, they don’t protect anyone because they take place underground, away from the strength and protection of the law.
We understand that law is complex. The complexity of the Assisted Dying Bill currently in the House of Lords forms a web of protection, one that whilst it has many layers, is clear enough to be understood by healthcare professionals, terminally ill people and everyone else.
To embody the principles we live by as disabled people, our role in this debate must be to champion these same values of choice and autonomy for terminally ill people; as many of them would and have championed these values for us over the course of their lives.
We have the security of knowing our own safety and value are protected in the Bill, now it’s time to make the case for change and finally act against the suffering of dying people.