"It is a Bill for the strong at the expense of the weak" Baroness Jane Campbell


Taken from the Daily Mail report. An excerpt from Baroness Campbell's speech to the House of Lords on Lord Falconer's 'Assisted Dying' Bill.

I am fearful not least because the Bill defines terminal illness as an 'inevitably progressive condition which cannot be reversed by treatment'. That could apply to many disabilities, my own included. Not a single organisation of disabled or terminally ill people is actively campaigning for this legislation.

They all agree that it is impossible to create clear blue water between disability and terminal illness and as regards how many months until one might die.

The definition of terminal illness in the Bill is 'an inevitably progressive condition which cannot be reversed by treatment (a "terminal illness")', from which the person 'is reasonably expected to die within six months'.

The Bill adds: 'Treatment which only relieves the symptoms of an inevitably progressive condition temporarily is not to be regarded as treatment which can reverse that condition.'

Baroness Campbell told the House of Lords 'Disabled and terminally people are rightly frightened that it (the bill) puts them at risk'

The brain, eyes, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, joints and nerves can all be subject to 'inevitably progressive' conditions deteriorating at widely differing rates.

Various forms of cancer, heart disease and neurological conditions can fit the criteria for 'inevitably progressive' at some stages. It would take only a chest infection or a small change in my muscle capacity for me to be put at risk. The catch-all of six months sends the invidious message that once you are down, you are on your way out.

For any newly diagnosed individual, it allows the early seeds of fear to be sown, perhaps by the individual, perhaps by family and friends, or perhaps both. Words of hope will have to compete against advice to shop around for a doctor willing to give a prognosis of six months or less.

As someone who has come close to death on several occasions, I know how essential it is to have a positive outlook. There are times when one believes that one is going to die. That can be for weeks or even months. When and if you get through that period and if, as in my case, a new ventilation system is suddenly developed, you get better again. Perhaps you have a week, a month or, as in my case, you have another two years.

However, during the weary low period when everyone expects you are going to die, you could easily take advantage of an assisted dying exit.

Other disabled and terminally ill people have spoken of enduring such periods for years before their spirits finally lift. People felt that they were going to die. They do not take out pensions. I do not have a pension. Why? It is because everyone was telling me that I was going to die.

The Bill is a law for the strong at the expense of the weak. Last weekend, I went to see the film The Theory Of Everything, a very engaging and honest biography of Professor Hawking and his contribution to theoretical physics. It closes with Stephen speaking to a group of scientists. He had outlived his sell-by date by 52 years.

He was often in the state of terminal progression, but he is still here. I was deeply moved when he said: 'However difficult life may seem, there is always something that someone can do and succeed at.'

I have lived my life according to that belief, which is why I am here today.

We do not walk that path alone; it requires everyone's optimism and belief in us. The Bill's supporters argue it will apply only to a very small number of people. That intention will be far better realised if prognosis is set with a much smaller time limit of weeks or, maybe months, but not six months.

Outside this building, there are people sitting in wheelchairs with terminal conditions saying, 'No, this is not about choice—this is not about me asking.' They have often felt so low that they felt that they had no options. They could have taken advantage of this Bill, because they have a terminal illness.

But people with terminal illnesses in the disability community say we should slow down and think again. We have to listen to them. Do not tell me that this is not about disabled people. It is very much about us because we are the people with experience of these issues. Many of those campaigning for this measure have not experienced these issues. They are people in control of their lives. They are people who fear becoming what they see us as.'

See also: Disability and Euthanasia - by Craig Wallace