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As UK Debates Doctor-Assisted Suicide, Disability Advocates Warn of Consequences

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February 3, 2015

“Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is not likely ever to go back in again,” Dutch doctor Theo Boer warned recently in Britain, where Parliament is debating its first assisted suicide.

“Don’t do it, Britain! Euthanasia is on the way to become a ‘default’ mode of dying for cancer patients,” he continued. Boer was an early advocate for assisted suicide, but is now strongly opposed.

The British bill would authorize “assisted dying,” currently illegal there. The debate has been fierce and its author concedes it will not pass before Britain’s parliamentary elections in May.

In the debate Baroness Jane “Tanni” Grey-Thompson argued that the bill’s “so-called safeguards are feeble. They are similar to putting up a notice not to go near the edge of a cliff, but not putting a railing there to stop people falling over.

“It defines terminal illness in such a way as to bring large numbers of people with chronic illnesses and disabilities within its ambit.”

Lady Grey-Thompson, 45, understands the issue well. She was born with spina bifida. Her nickname “Tanni” came from her older sister who, seeing the new baby, exclaimed ‘she is so tiny!’

But she grew up to become a wheelchair racer. In a Paralympic career spanning two decades she won 11medals. Now she is married and has a daughter, 12.

On the opposite side of the debate Lord Michael Cashman, a 1980s star in the soap opera “EastEnders,” said he considered suicide when his long-term partner was approaching death last year. Cashman declared it was “absolutely clear that if my husband and partner was to die, I wanted to die with him.”

The British bill’s backers, the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society, now renamed Dignity in Dying, assert that the measure would only apply to terminally ill and mentally competent adults.

Vigorous disagreeing is Baroness Jane Campbell of Surbiton, 55, who has severe spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative disease.

Speaking through a ventilator Lady Campbell warned that the assisted suicide bill would make law “for the strong at the expense of the weak.”

She warned that the bill was “terribly open to misinterpretation and abuse” and would add to confusion between terminal illness and disability.

Lady Campbell is a co-founder of Britain’s National Centre for Independent Living.

Some Brits intent on suicide now travel to Switzerland, which allows “suicide tourism.”

Frequent reasons people commit legal suicide in Switzerland include paralysis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, cancer and rheumatic diseases.

Ominously, a Zurich University study of the major Swiss provider found that “Non-terminal conditions such as neurological and rheumatic diseases are increasing among suicide tourists.”

The study found that suicide tourists to the largest Zurich death-dealing organization doubled from 86 in 2009 to 172 in 2012.

The group charges up to 7,000 Euros for its “services,” which include access to a private apartment where a lethal cocktail of killing drugs is provided to end one’s life, and then body bag removal of the corpse. Neighbors described it as “a house of horrors.”

Ironically, Lord Falconer, argued that the existence of the Swiss facility was reason that Britain should make assisted suicide legal in the UK. He asserted it would treat poor Brits the same as the rich who could go to Switzerland and would end “amateur assistance.”

Parliament will continue the debate sometime after its May elections.