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HomeHealthAssisted dying debate terrifying for disabled people, says actress Liz Carr

Assisted dying debate terrifying for disabled people, says actress Liz Carr

The Silent Witness actress is concerned about how this could affect vulnerable or disabled people. These fears are central to her new documentary Better Off Dead?, in which she makes the case against assisted dying in the UK.

Assisted suicide is banned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. While there is no specific offence of assisted suicide in Scotland, euthanasia is illegal and can be prosecuted as murder or culpable homicide.

Just last week, broadcaster Esther Rantzen, who is terminally ill with lung cancer, begged MPs to attend a debate on a petition which argues that “terminally ill people who are mentally sound and near the end of their lives should not suffer unbearably against their will”.

Carr is afraid that changing the law for terminally ill people could eventually result in those who are poor, disabled or mentally ill being allowed to have an assisted death in the UK – or even feeling compelled to do so.

The actress says the possibility is “terrifying”.

She points to Canada where the law was changed in 2016 to allow those whose death was “reasonably foreseeable” to have an assisted death, and then changed again in 2021 to include those with a medical condition who were “suffering unbearably”.

Journalist Melanie Reid, who became tetraplegic (paralysed from the neck down) in 2010 after a horse-riding accident, doesn’t see a potential change to the law as something to fear, and tells Carr she has “a human right to decide what happens to my body”.

She believes the law should also allow people who are not terminally ill, but who are suffering in other ways, to end their lives.

But Dr Katherine Sleeman, a specialist in palliative care, says she is concerned for people who may feel they are a burden to their families.

“Patients will say to me: ‘I don’t want to go to a care home really, but I know my family want me to do it and I know it will be easier for them so I think I’m going to say yes’,” Dr Sleeman explains.

“Substitute the words ‘go to a care home’ with ‘have an assisted death’ and I think it’s a completely different picture.”

The specialist believes no assisted dying law can be completely safe, and that some people who do not really want to die will always “slip through the net”.

Lord Falconer, a King’s Counsel who has sponsored four bills that would allow people with less than six months to live to have medical assistance to die, says assisted dying should only be for those with a terminal illness – and that there would need to be legal safeguards to protect vulnerable people.

“Being disabled is most certainly not the same as being terminally ill,” he tells Carr. “The line in the sand for me is terminal illness and it goes no further than that.”

Better Off Dead?, BBC One and iPlayer, will air on Tuesday 14 May at 21:00

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