Assisted dying and where it leaves disabled people

Some people with a disability might feel coerced into a drastic decision, it is argued...
06 February 2024

Interview with 

Tanni Grey-Thompson


this is a picture of someone using a wheelchair


Despite calls for a change in the law on assisted dying, some campaigners argue that it might leave some disabled people in a difficult position. Tanni Grey-Thompson is a life peeress, TV presenter, and paralympic champion...

Tanni - As a disabled person, I have some experience of the daily discrimination that people face: lack of access to education, work, transport. For me, I really worry that disabled peoples' place in society is not valued and that disabled people will come out of this very poorly. I've had someone say to me, 'If my life was like yours, I'd kill myself.' I come from, I have a very privileged background but, as a legislator, we're trying to look at all the foreseen and unforeseen consequences, and that's where you do have to look at personal, but you have to look at society as a whole. I'm very concerned about the impact it will have on a huge number of people.

James - People who are proponents of assisted dying will say, if we put safeguards in place where doctors, maybe one or more, can verify someone is of sound mind, why should they not be able to choose an assisted death without implicating their families in a crime or even having to leave them behind and pursue this abroad?

Tanni - So, as an abstract, that sounds inherently sensible. However, who are the doctors? How long do they have to make that judgement? We know that mental capacity legislation hasn't been fully invoked. What sounds very simple comes with a whole range of complications. We have to be mindful. In the last 18 months we passed legislation on coercive control in parliament, and you can't underestimate the fact that people may be coerced into thinking this is the only option. It's awful when you hear of people who've seen and witnessed difficult deaths. We don't talk about death as a country and we need to be supporting people to make sure that they have quality care. In jurisdictions like New South Wales, although that's relatively new, where they've brought in palliative care, budgets have been slashed. So, it sounds very simple, I agree with the principle, but then kick the real decisions into the long grass of secondary legislation? The devil is always in the detail.

James - This is where the debate is, isn't it? There are risks affiliated, of course, with a change in the law on assisted dying, but is it worth it? Is it, as some people argue, a matter of autonomy for people to choose what's best for them in the most personal of circumstances, the case of death?

Tanni - I've been pushed hard on my view on choice because I'll argue about choice for disabled people, but choosing how you live in a society is very different from bringing in legislation, which would have an impact on much wider individuals. It's not an easy one, I do not want anyone to have a bad death absolutely not. But this is a big change in society. If this law comes about, it changes our relationship with people. I believe, if we start talking about the NHS and we need to save money and we need to do things differently, we are not too far from euthanasia. I think we are heading towards a dystopian future if the law is changed.


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