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Assisted suicide legislation “terrifying” for people with disabilities, says actress Liz Carr

Comedian, actress and disability rights campaigner Liz Carr has said that the prospect of making assisted suicide legal in the UK is “terrifying”.

Ahead of her documentary Better Off Dead? set to be aired on the BBC later this month, in which the actress makes her case against making assisted suicide legal in the UK, Liz Carr has said that making assisted suicide legal for the terminally ill will eventually lead to allowing it for people who are poor, disabled or mentally ill as well.

She described this possibility as “terrifying”.

Speaking to a Canadian clinician, Dr Ellen Wiebe, the Silent Witness actress suggested that “apart from the fact I don’t have the desire, I think probably I would be eligible [for assisted suicide or euthanasia] under Canadian law”.

Dr Wiebe did not disagree, adding that Carr would have to show that she was “suffering unbearably” in order to be given the drugs to end her life.

Carr made reference to the expansion of the assisted suicide and euthanasia law in Canada where in 2021, the Canadian Parliament repealed the requirement that the natural death of those applying for assisted suicide be “reasonably foreseeable”. This took place only five years after the original legislation allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide was passed in 2016. 

The BBC also reported the concerns of Dr Katherine Sleeman, a specialist in palliative care, who said that people 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'”, she said.

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

Dr Sleeman argued that assisted suicide laws cannot be completely safe and that some people who do not wish to die will inevitably slip through the net.

Liz Carr will present Better Off Dead?, which will air on BBC One on Tuesday 14 May at 21:00.

At the end of last month, a large number of MPs spoke in opposition to assisted suicide after an e-petition requesting a debate on the matter reached more than 100,000 signatures.

The MPs opposed to a future change in the law on assisted suicide emphasised the manner in which the eligibility criteria for assisted suicide in other jurisdictions has rapidly expanded, the risks this legislation imposes on the most vulnerable, and the distortion of the doctor-patient relationship created by assisted suicide, among other concerns.

Study finds “wish-to-die” is transient

A 2021 study in Ireland found that almost three-quarters of people over 50 who had previously expressed a wish to die no longer had that desire two years later. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), surveyed 8,174 people over the age of 50 and found that 3.5% expressed a wish to die at Wave 1 of the study.

However, as the report states: “Seventy-two per cent of these participants no longer reported a wish to die when reassessed 2 years later”.

Researchers behind the study from Trinity College Dublin found that the “wish to die” among older people is often “transient” and linked with depression and feelings of loneliness.

Furthermore, TILDA found that 60% of those who reported a wish to die also had “clinically significant” depressive symptoms while half had been diagnosed with depression.

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said “Liz Carr is absolutely right to point to other jurisdictions such as Canada that show how assisted suicide and euthanasia legislation quickly expands beyond its original limits. A 2023 survey in Canada showed that 50% agreed that “disability” should be a reason for euthanasia, with that figure rising to 60% for 18-34 year olds”.

“Cultural attitudes towards disability like this are especially alarming and we would be naive to think that they couldn’t exist here”.

Dear reader,

MPs will shortly vote on proposed changes to the law, brought forward by Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Diana Johnson, that would introduce the biggest change to our abortion laws since the Abortion Act was introduced in 1967.

These proposed changes to the law would make it more likely that healthy babies are aborted at home for any reason, including sex-selective purposes, up to birth.

Polling undertaken by ComRes, shows that only 1% of women support introducing abortion up to birth and that 91% of women agree that sex-selective abortion should be explicitly banned by the law.

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