Thursday 1 May 2014

Blogging Against Disablism Day - The Right to Life

We are all born, we all live, we all die. It's a simple journey, but one fraught with potential difficulties, that are made simpler by our need to rely on each other.

That reliance begins when we are babies. We are born so helpless, we all need the care of parents twenty four hours a day to survive. For the majority, the need for physical care reduces over the years, and by the time we leave home, our reliance on family is mainly emotional, and practical. By then, if we are lucky, we have developed self reliance, independence, an ability to get along in the world. But we never lose the need for friendship and family: the people with whom we share our joys, hopes, aspirations, the people who we still rely on in our darkest hours.

For some, full self-reliance is never possible. Some are born with a disability/disabilities or chronic illness that means they will need physical and emotional support throughout life. All of us face the chance that we might become sick or disabled in later life, requiring major life changes and a recognition that things will be different from here on. But that doesn't mean life can't be lived to the full. With the right supports from friends and family, with the right amount of state funding they can be in control of, people who are sick or disabled live important, creative lives, full of hope and possibility.

And, of course, all of us, no matter how healthy and independent we are in our youth and middle years, there will come to a point where we begin to fade. Gradually we will find our joints aren't as flexible. We will suffer minor health crises that become major ones. We will learn to become more dependant on family and friends as we lose the ability to drive, to cook, to walk. Yet, even then, life is precious. If we have support and are surrounded by those who love us, we can still find pleasure in the simple things - listening to music on the radio, watching grandchildren play in the garden, a visit from an old friend.

With the right resources, a good life is always possible - even in the most adverse circumstances - as Sue Marsh articulates so clearly here. And yet, there will come a point for all of us when the pain, the loss of independence, the indignity, the sheer hard grind of it all becomes too much. What should we do then? How is life possible in such circumstances? Should it be allowed to continue in such circumstances?

The Right to Die movement believes that it shouldn't, that in the final moments, we all should have the choice of when we leave this world and that our families and friends should be able to help us without impunity. I know many good people who believe in this campaign, and believe we need to legislate for legalised assisted suicide. I have some sympathy with their views - none of us want to face indignity at the end, none of us want to be a burden to family and friends, and if someone we love begs for help to die, wouldn't we be hard hearted to respond? 

I would never want to condemn someone who makes that choice, or someone who helps a friend or family member make that choice. And I don't believe justice is served by punishing those who help people they love in this way. But I can't support it being made into law, partly because I believe that end of life would be improved for everyone if the kind of care available in hospices was normal.  Partly because I think the legal guidance as it stands, makes it possible for people who disagree with me to undertake assisted suicide even though they are technically breaking the law. And partly I can't support the legalisation of euthanasia because of the possible unintended consequences,  particularly at the moment. Because, no matter how good the intent, no matter how many guarantees may be in place, once the state says it is legal to carry out assisted suicide, it becomes easier for the state to intervene in other situations. Right now, that's a very scary prospect for people with disabilities, chronic illnesses and their allies. The era of austerity has resulted in an unprecedented rise in hostility to disabled people, the highest rates of disabled hate crime recorded and as  disabled and sick people struggling to survive as they bear the brunt of the cuts. When Colin Brewer, a Cornwall Councillor said disabled children should be put down because they cost too much it was good to see that he was condemned. However, he is not alone, Geoffrey Clark, a UKIP candidate has expressed similar views, and how many more agree in private? No wonder Baroness Campbell told the House of Lords earlier this year in a debate on assisted suicide this is a dangerous time to  consider legalising euthanasia.  The shadow of the Nazis T4 programme still hangs over disabled and sick people - and sadly, I no longer believe it could never happen here.

It doesn't have to though. If enough of us work together to make sure the rights of sick and disabled people are always at the forefront of society. If enough of us, work together to ensure everyone who requires support gets it. If enough of us recognise that we all rely on each other to survive.

Because everyone has the right to life. And everyone has the capacity to live the fullest life possible.

All it takes is a little bit of support.


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