Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick of Not Dead yet UK reports on the UK campaign against Lord Falconer's 'assisted dying' bill. (First published on Alex Schadenberg's blog)
In the (British) House of Lords, another attempt to legalise assisted suicide/euthanasia was debated at 2nd reading stage July 18, 2014 through Lord Falconer's 'assisted dying' Bill. It was rumoured that a vote would be forced and it was estimated, in advance of the debate, that speakers for the assisted suicide would outweigh those against by a 2:1 margin. On the day of the debate, neither turned out to be so. The Bill 'passed' to the committee stage without a vote, after ten hours of discussion in the chamber, but to our pleased surprise speakers were split about 50:50 for and against the Bill.
The Not Dead Yet personal letter-writing/email campaign had a real effect, even after the proponents' lobby swamped the Lords' postboxes. This reinforces that deeply felt personal letters from people with disabilities potentially outweighs numerous letters from our opposition; especially if that letter expresses truths, exposes the dissembling of those who favour assisted suicide.
Our hope and expectation is that the Lords will kill the Bill at the committee stage. We have hope, but we will not rely on that hope alone to defeat the Bill.
We had some very significant success in the British media, most notably a complete u-turn in a major daily, the Guardian, whose editorial appeared on the morning of the debate, in time for it to be cited by some of the Lords in their speeches. The phrase 'this would change the moral landscape' was repeated more than once.
We started the week less well than we finished. Top-heavy reporting by the BBC ITN, other TV and radio stations plus the print media provided lots of negative coverage in the week before the debate.
There were many significant media 'hits' during the week which changed the balance in a way we had not experienced before. (There is a long way to go to get real balance but we made some in-roads into the media and thus, public consciousness.)
Jane Campbell spoke on BBC Radio 4's flagship Today programme.
Tanni Grey-Thompson spoke to BBC1's This Week about the reaction from some people to her disability, and how:
'In their eyes, my life is not worth living.'
Pam Franklin spoke about living with MND (a similar situation to Tony Nicklinson, communicating through a computer), saying she was 'too nosy to want to die' and was someone with MND who always has 'another book to read, another film to see'. Her story was broadcast on the main BBC News bulletins of the eve of the debate.
The same evening ITV's flagship programme Tonight, featured terminally ill people for and against the proposed law and had selections from a debate filmed earlier, in which I participated. The editor gave everyone fair time and I was afforded the last word, which was very helpful. It was also notable for the balance of 'terminally ill people for and against'.
It was the Guardian editorial that morning which stunned us all. One of Britain's biggest 'broadsheet' daily newspapers, the Guardian has consistently been pro-assisted suicide including some polemic verging on the vitriolic. The morning of the debate, it published an editorial which, although they used a stock photo of the Nicklinsons, was an extraordinary u-turn. It pointed out that Nicklinson could not have benefitted from the proposed law, using the headline Lord Falconer's bill sounds modest but it will redraw the moral landscape.
BBC's Fergus Walsh interviewed Not Dead Yet leaders at the protest outside the House of Lords and used Liz Carr's contribution in the evening bulletin: she really nailed it.
That evening I did a Radio 5 Live (national radio) interview against Tom Curran of Exit and a Scottish GP Dr Kerr who had euthanized patients. On our side, Roger Symes plugged away at the creepy doctor. The interviewing journalist Stephen Nolan is not usually the most accommodating, but he gave me the last contributions which lasted more than five minutes answering his questions, so it was a good finale to the day.
For the purposes of this summary, I have only reported some of the most significant media 'hits'. There were many others, and our work especially through social media was a major step forward this time.
There were several hundred exchanges daily on social media as the week progressed, using Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and more traditional email. My inbox had nearly 2,000 exchanges, and continues to rise.
It would be impossible to rehearse them all here so a couple of highlights:
Liz Carr set up a special interest forum page on Facebook, which became a focal point for disabled people and supporters to check, and refine their ideas, and it was a useful tool for communicating details of the protest. There is now a very useful file resource on that page.
We decided on several messages among them the core being 'Kill the Bill, not us' as the banner shows.
The Twitter 'thunderclap' which went off just one minute after the pro-lobby's, apparently reached over 200,000 people.
Twitter and Facebook have been effective means of communicating, especially with disabled colleagues in the US, alongside others of course.
The NDY UK core email 'group' has been very effective despite its 'loose coalition' status and is becoming more effective going forward.
We cannot avoid the fact that if Labour wins the 2015 general election in Britain, the new government will include a lot of supporters (Falconer is Labour) of assisted suicide. Unless it appears in their election manifesto then the route that assisted suicide will be brought to parliament is likely through another Private Member's Bill.
We are working as though it will return to the Commons sometime in the next parliament beginning mid-2015.
We are building on any gains made in the last while. That means we are trying to continue to educate our various audiences. I believe politicians and journalists are the key.
See also: UK Falconer Bill - where are we now.