Thursday, July 17, 2014

Disabled people need help to live, not die

I am terrified by Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill – and so are the doctors who would have to act as suicide judges - Penny Pepper

I tried to commit suicide when I was 19. How tragic, you might say, so young and so unhappy. Yet if I tell you I’ve had a chronic illness since early childhood that is known for excruciating pain, for causing immobility and secondary – sometimes life-threatening – conditions, does that change your view of my suicide attempt?

I was unhappy and badly needed mental health support to treat depression. Sad to say that the standard response was to link my illness and disability automatically to my depression – and my “understandable” suicide attempt. There is a link, but not the one perceived by mainstream thought, medical or otherwise. I was stuck in an isolated dead-end existence within the family home, and as I wrote in the Guardian recently my mother was my only carer.

It felt like there was no chance of escape from a pointless existence; frustration dragged my depression into a downward spiral and I attempted suicide. I was in despair with barriers, with limits on personal freedom, and lack of independence – issues that can be alleviated by proper social care and the adaptation of physical boundaries.

Pain was, and is, a constant. But for the rest of my life I want to experience, to feel and to create as much as I can. I believe I am as valuable, with all my flaws and contradictions, as any other average human being. Yet the bill to legalise assisted dying – to be debated in the Lords on Friday – puts us on a dangerous road of devaluing disabled people. It frightens many; it frightens me...