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Back dignity, not dying

Disabled People Against Cuts should be saluted for its courageous opposition to assisted dying

DISABLED People Against Cuts (DPAC) is to be congratulated on its courage for battling the assisted dying Bills going through both Houses of Parliament.

As Ellen Clifford notes in today’s exclusive article for the Morning Star, there is a difference between this campaign and DPAC’s superb work fighting Atos’s humiliating and unfair Fit for Work tests or its heroic effort to save the independent living fund, now removed by our hard-right government.

That difference is that DPAC will find itself on the opposite side of the argument from many of its natural allies on the left, who “tend to assume they are in favour” of assisted suicide.

Clifford’s wording is important here — “tend to assume.”

She is right that there is a real danger that the left sleepwalks into endorsing a change in the law on euthanasia without carefully considering its implications.

That risk is heightened by the bizarre timing of the second reading of Rob Marris’s controversial Bill — set to take place on September 11, when all Labour’s attention will be on the result of the leadership election announced the following day.

In the assisted dying debate socialists have largely left the field to liberals, apart from a couple of thoughtful articles in this newspaper on the subject by Paul Donovan and Ben Parankulangara.

This has allowed the conversation to be dominated by talk of individual autonomy and the “right to die” — which as Clifford notes already exists — without consideration of the social context in which individuals are asked to exercise that right.

That is a Britain of yawning inequality, led by a government intent on the privatisation of our public services.

Regular readers of this newspaper will be aware of the crippling cost and inefficiency of privatisation, but the issue here runs deeper.

Privatised services exist for one reason only — to make a profit.

Most of this country’s social care network is already in private hands and we are all familiar with the problems this causes: endemic low pay, staff being given insufficient time to look after patients properly and a price tag that many families cannot afford, with care home fees running into thousands of pounds a month.

Such fees can easily swallow up an inheritance or force the sale of a house. It is hardly surprising if older people in need of care often feel guilty about the impact of their longevity on their children.

Similar guilt has been widely observed among disabled people worried about the impact of their disability on their loved ones.

A government which has demonised people with disabilities — leading to a sustained rise in hate crime against them — is creating a chilling atmosphere in which the terminally ill will be asked if it is worth their while to continue living.

This has led to a climate of fear and incomprehension around disability.

Paralympic gold medallist Tanni Grey-Thompson and disabled comedian Liz Carr have both reported strangers telling them they would rather die than have to live as they do.

The advocates of assisted dying have proved surprisingly flexible about the conditions under which it should apply.

Will children be allowed to choose to die, as in the Netherlands and Belgium? Are people with mental health problems, depression or dementia able to make such a choice?

Is Lord Falconer right that people who find “loss of independence” “intolerable” should be helped to kill themselves?

Paying for people to live in dignity is expensive and unprofitable.

It does not make sense in capitalist terms — one reason why bastions of the right such as The Economist and The Sun have become cheerleaders for assisted dying.

But we are not capitalists. Socialists should think carefully before accepting any policy that involves killing the weak — even with their apparent permission.

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