Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations On the Contrary

Assisted dying: what’s disability got to do with it?

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 26 August 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3446
  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor, BMJ
  1. tdelamothe{at}

    The debate on assisted dying has been hijacked by disabled people who want to live. It needs to be reclaimed for terminally ill people who want to die

    Assisted dying, assisted suicide, assisted killing: call it what you will, I’m in favour of it as an option for terminally ill adults of sound mind who want to die. Nevertheless, I try hard to keep up with the arguments against it. I think I understand them all, with the exception of those emanating from various disability lobby groups.

    I first noticed their participation in the campaign against Lord Joffe’s bill on assisted dying for the terminally ill in 2006. Making common cause with them was the Archbishop of Canterbury, who led the opposition to the bill in the House of Lords. He divined in the bill a message that “certain kinds of life are not worth living” (BMJ 2006:332;1169, doi:10.1136/bmj.332.7551.1169).

    This year Lord Falconer attempted to introduce an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill that would have removed the threat of prosecution from those who help others to commit suicide abroad. In that debate the star turn was the disabled peer Baroness Campbell, whose spinal muscular atrophy requires her to use a wheelchair and a ventilator. Of the …

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