Updated: Friday, 24th November 2017 @ 8:08am

Assisted dying bill will put disabled 'at risk' of being branded a 'burden', warns Bishop of Manchester

Assisted dying bill will put disabled 'at risk' of being branded a 'burden', warns Bishop of Manchester

| By James Dawson

The Bishop of Manchester has spoken out against the legalisation of assisted dying, saying that British society should not become one that sees vulnerable people as ‘a burden’.

A Private Member’s Bill, brought forward by Rob Marris MP, will have its second reading in Parliament today and is expected to be moved to vote this afternoon.

But despite polls showing public opinion to be in favour of assisted dying’s legalisation, disability groups are amongst those voicing concerns, and Dr David Walker has supported that criticism, telling MM that the bill presents ‘a risk’ to people with serious disabilities.

“I think it’s important to balance what may be an understandable request from an individual with the impact on changing the way our whole society deals with the care of the most vulnerable,” he said.

“Many people wanting to end their life are driven not by unbearable pain or loss of all quality of life, but by a sense of feeling that they are a burden on others, either financially or in terms of their care needs.

“Most British people don’t want our society to become one that sees people as a burden.

“That's why I oppose legalising assisted dying, which would put people with serious disabilities at risk.”

The Church of England has also voiced its opposition to the bill, issuing a statement claiming the proposed legislation ‘is not compassionate enough’ and saying the government’s approach should be to offer ‘better access to high-quality, holistic palliative care.’

Many disability charities supported this stance also, with Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, saying: “Any such legislation gives the state power to end our lives through fear and coercion, but is sold to us as ‘choice’.”

However, campaign groups such as Dignity in Dying have come out in support of the bill, pointing to public support for assisted dying to be legalised and arguing that current law are not working. 

Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Dignity in Dying, said: “In Parliament MPs will debate whether dying people in this country should have control over their own deaths.

“MPs have a chance to introduce the right law for the country and we hope they pass the Assisted Dying Bill through its first stage today so we can have a detailed scrutiny of the law.

“This debate is not about whether assisted dying will happen – we know it does and will continue to.

“This is a question about how assisted dying happens: the current unregulated system with no protection for dying people or a robust assisted dying law where dying people are given choice and are protected.

“With one Briton a fortnight going to Dignitas, and over 300 terminally ill people taking their own life at home every year, it is clear the current law is not working.”

Last year Coronation Street sparked widespread public debate on the issue when Hayley Cropper chose to end her life after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, with a Populus poll conducted earlier this year showing 82% of the public support a move towards legalisation.  

Even if the bill is passed at its second reading, the issue remains a complex one, with MPs being asked to balance the need to offer individuals freedom over their own lives against the need for society to act with compassion towards its most vulnerable.

Dr Iain Brassington, a senior lecturer in bioethics and medical Law at The University of Manchester, said:"The Assisted Dying Bill currently before Parliament is not the first, and - if it does not become law - it will not be the last. 

“The moral arguments come down to questions of balancing a desire to minimise suffering against a need to provide adequate safeguards to ensure that all requests for assistance are genuine.  

“That would be the acid test of any law, and it’s reasonable to assume that any proposed law that couldn’t offer the safeguards shouldn’t be passed."

Main images courtesy of Dani Kauf, via Wikipedia, and Manchester Climate Monthly ,via YouTube, with thanks.