‘Assisted Dying would worsen disability inequalities’

Dr Miro Griffiths, Leverhulme Research Fellow in Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, policy adviser, and spokesperson for the Better Way campaign, made these representations to MSPs last night at a special parliamentary event.

“The Assisted Dying Bill is vague, incoherent, and is predicated on arbitrary measures. There are four thematic areas of concern with the Bill:

“It does not address concerns about legislative “creep, wherein inclusion criteria is expanded to permit more people – from different backgrounds – to access assisted dying mechanisms. This is often the case in other countries. Undoubtedly, individuals who are not eligible under the current Bill’s definitions will continue to campaign to broaden the criteria. Where concerns of legislative “creep” have been rejected (such as in Oregon), there are patterns of concentrated decision-making and approval by a small group of professionals. This means applicants for assisted dying mechanisms may focus attention on identifying and engaging with professionals who are most likely to approve their request for assisted dying. This approach, as witnessed in Oregon, raises concerns for safeguarding measures. It undermines claims of due diligence within the proposed legislation – particularly in relation to section 3.3.

“It uses arbitrary measures. It is difficult to determine health outcomes,  given the emergence in medical technologies and the continued advancements in health care provision. Furthermore, access to treatments and support can differ across localities, which will affect health outcome expectations. If one is denied access to expensive medical treatment, surgeries, therapies, and support provision then one’s health would deteriorate considerably. Measures of competency and individual capacity (as outlined in section 3.1) are vague and, arguably, meaningless.

“The necessary infrastructure to carry out the proposed assisted dying mechanisms remains non-existent. No discussion has taken place on the time and resource allocation required to complete the Declaration outlined in the Bill, and to carry out due diligence throughout the procedures. It remains ambiguous as to how to determine the absence of coercion or duress when applications are made. This is particularly pertinent given the recent evidence of individual narratives of burden-hood, restricted access to healthcare, and blanket Do Not Attempt Resuscitation orders imposed on the disabled people’s community during the Coronavirus pandemic.

“The lack of consideration of the political, social, economic, cultural, and historical contexts that surround disabled people’s social position. The United Nations, human rights groups, and Disabled People’s Organisations have highlighted the social injustices encountered by disabled people. Legislative and policy interventions should focus on improving opportunities to participate in society and access sufficient healthcare across the life course. Within the last 11 years, disabled people have been subjected to extensive social injustices: the United Nations inquiry concluded that grave or systematic violations had taken place surrounding the rights of disabled people; the government response to the coronavirus pandemic has illustrated, and exacerbated, disabled people’s marginalisation and precarity in daily life; and the latest strategies to improve disabled people’s life chances are considered ineffective by disabled people’s organisations. We have now reached a position where we are debating dignity in death before there is dignity in life.”