Double suicide draws further tragic attention to ‘fit for work’ test

The death of a young woman who killed herself after being found “fit for work” is the latest proof of the catastrophic consequences of the government’s cuts to disability benefits and services, say campaigners.

The mother of the young woman – from London – also killed herself, just 24 hours after hearing of her daughter’s death earlier this month.

Paula, a disabled activist from south London and a friend of the young woman, took part in a protest and lobby of parliament this week that had been organised by the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

DPAC held a “paupers’ picnic” in the central lobby of the Houses of Parliament, to draw MPs’ attention to cuts that are leaving many disabled people without enough money to feed themselves properly.

Paula told Disability News Service that she had seen a letter left by the young woman, who was in her 20s and had learning difficulties and a mental health condition.

In the letter, the young woman said she had been found “fit for work”, and could not face a future without any money.

Her devastated family have stressed to Paula that they do not want their names passed to the media.

Paula said: “There are so many people now who have no money at all to live on. They have no way to pay their bills.”

Paula is due to be tested for her own “fitness for work” as part of the national programme to reassess about 1.5 million people claiming incapacity benefit, by checking their eligibility for the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

Disabled activists have repeatedly pointed to links between the fitness for work test and relapses, episodes of self-harm and even suicides and other deaths among those being assessed.

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New concerns over impartiality of assisted suicide commission

New concerns have been raised about the impartiality of a commission set up to examine the possible legalisation of assisted suicide.

Disability News Service revealed in December that at least eight of the 12 commissioners have in the past supported a change in the law to allow some kind of assisted suicide.

But further concerns have emerged after one of the commissioners, Celia Grandison-Markey – who is not one of the eight highlighted previously – revealed during a commission evidence session that she had delivered a paper on end of life care at an event organised by the Royal College of Nursing.

Grandison-Markey, interim chair of the Patients Association, has declined to provide details of what she said in her paper, and the Patients Association has also declined to comment.

If Grandison-Markey had expressed support for legalisation in the paper, this would mean nine of the 12 commissioners had previously backed a change in the law, and would cast even greater doubt on the body’s impartiality.

Demos, the think-tank which is “hosting” the Commission on Assisted Dying, and helped choose its members, has also refused to answer questions about the paper.

A Demos spokeswoman said it was “not for Demos to comment on reports or statements made by commissioners, nor to make comments on their behalf, especially when it concerns their work before joining the Commission on Assisted Dying”.

When it was pointed out that Demos helped choose its membership, she refused to comment, and added: “I would love to be able to help you with that, but I am afraid on this request I have done all I can.”

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, convenor of Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), a network of disabled people that opposes a change in the law, said that if three-quarters of the commission had previously expressed support for legalisation it would destroy the body’s credibility.

The commission is chaired by the former Labour minister Lord Falconer and part-funded by the author Terry Pratchett, who have both been outspoken in calling for legalisation, while it was set up by the pro-assisted suicide charity Dignity in Dying.

The other co-funder, Bernard Lewis, founder of the high street retail chain River Island, has said that he too is in favour of legalisation, “given safeguards that would prevent abuse or pressure”.

NDY UK said Lewis had “not yet detailed how such safeguards might even be possible, especially when they would need to cover every possible human motivation in every individual case”.

Baroness Campbell has written to the commission to say that it would be “entirely inappropriate” for her or NDY UK to give evidence because the commission is “biased” in favour of changing the law.

She said that “those few disabled people who are campaigning for a change in the law are understandably afraid of what they will face, especially in the light of cuts to health and social services”.

She added: “We realise that those fears are not groundless – but this ‘commission’ should be giving thought to how to alleviate such fears through reassurance, protection and support.

“That would do a much greater, indeed an invaluable service to all disabled people, rather than this narrow, damaging insistence on changing law.”

Only one member of the commission, Professor Sam Ahmedzai, a specialist in palliative medicine, appears to have spoken out against legalisation.

Dr Stephen Duckworth – the commission’s only disabled member – originally opposed a change in the law, but has since changed his mind and publicly backed legalisation, although he now claims he is undecided.

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Euthanasia report is ‘victory for disability movement in Scotland’

Disabled activists have welcomed a Scottish parliamentary committee’s recommendation that MSPs reject plans to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in Scotland.

The committee, set up to consider the end of life assistance (Scotland) bill, outlined a series of flaws in the legislation proposed by independent MSP Margo MacDonald, and concluded that it could not recommend its “general principles” to the Scottish parliament.

The bill, which is set to be debated by MSPs on Thursday (25 November), would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.

Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify for assistance to end their lives.

Surveys suggest a large majority of MSPs will now vote against the bill.

The committee concluded in its report on the bill that society’s “wider” interests should prevail over an individual’s right to exercise control over the time of their death, and highlighted evidence that the bill could have “a negative effect for disabled people”.

It also criticised the “extraordinarily wide” number of disabled people who would be covered by the law and warned that “using the inability to live independently as an eligibility requirement for end-of-life assistance” could have “unintended consequences”.

And it pointed to the “particularly compelling” evidence given by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), who argued that disabled people’s lives could be “intolerable” simply because society was failing to provide “sufficient and appropriate support”.

It concluded that Scottish law on assisted suicide and euthanasia was clear and unambiguous and dismissed “spurious” calls for clarity.

Pam Duncan, a board member of Inclusion Scotland, who gave evidence opposing the bill, said she was “really pleased” with the report, which had been “a lot stronger than we expected”.

She said that DPOs had played a crucial part in convincing the committee that the bill should not become law.

She said: “It says something about the strength of the disabled people’s movement in Scotland that we were able to get that voice out and get people heard.”

Duncan said the report had sent a message to MSPs and wider society about “the value of the lives of disabled people”.

Catherine Garrod, a member of Inclusion Scotland, also welcomed the report, and added: “We thought the committee would come back with a neutral report which would just highlight the pros and cons. We didn’t think they would make a recommendation.”

But both Duncan and Garrod said the bill had been a major distraction from the need to campaign against the spending cuts that are set to have a major impact on disabled people’s right to independent living.

Garrod said: “The disability movement wants to be focused on fighting those cuts and fighting for those rights rather than this distraction.”

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Euthanasia protest will mark opposition to ‘very dangerous’ bill

Disabled anti-euthanasia campaigners are to stage a protest outside the Scottish parliament, as a committee of MSPs hears evidence on a proposed bill that would legalise assisted suicide in Scotland.

The end of life assistance (Scotland) bill would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.

Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify for assistance to end their lives under the bill, which has been proposed by independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

Bill Scott, acting manager of Inclusion Scotland – a national consortium of disabled people’s organisations and disabled people – said that offering the bill’s assistance to anyone with a care need was “very, very dangerous”.

He said a “huge number” of people would technically qualify for assistance under the bill, which was “not about assisting people at the end of their lives but about offering assistance at any stage once they have acquired an impairment that requires some level of care”.

Catherine Garrod, a member of Inclusion Scotland, said there were many people within the disability rights movement who were “very strongly opposed” to the bill.

She said it could be argued that the bill covered any disabled person who receives disability benefits, and added: “That’s why the disabled people’s movement is so strongly opposed to it. It is going to cover such large numbers of disabled people.”

Written evidence already submitted to the committee considering the bill by Independent Living in Scotland (ILiS) – a disabled people’s organisation set up to develop the independent living movement in Scotland – said the bill took a “disempowering” approach to independent living.

ILiS said the bill “contradicts and undoes the years of work” by the independent living movement, the Scottish government and other organisations.

ILiS also criticises MacDonald’s bill for making no mention of the barriers disabled people face that may contribute to them finding life “intolerable”.

The protest will take place from 9.30am on Tuesday 28 September, the day Inclusion Scotland is due to give evidence to the committee, along with other disability and pro- and anti-euthanasia organisations.

For more information about the protest, contact Inclusion Scotland, email or tel: 0141 8877058

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