By Hilary White

LONDON, August 31, 2009 ( – An editorial appearing in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) has blamed disabled people “who want to live” for the difficulties surrounding the debate in the UK on assisted suicide. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor of the BMJ, bluntly admitted that he is in favour of assisted suicide. 

“The debate on assisted dying has been hijacked by disabled people who want to live. It needs to be reclaimed for terminally ill people who want to die,” he wrote.

Led by Baroness Jane Campbell, a disabled member of the House of Lords, the disability campaigners have stood in the way of those who “rationally” choose to die, rather than endure their conditions. Delamothe objected to the argument that a change in the law would undermine the rights of vulnerable people.

“The rights?” Delamothe asks. “I understand that changing the law might mean that some people could feel under some obligation to bring about their premature end to avoid being a burden to others – and that severely disabled people might feel this more than most. But should such a risk override the freedom of competent terminally ill people to bring about their own end at a time of their choosing?”

Delamothe quotes Baroness Warnock, the doyenne of British utilitarian bioethics philosophers, calling her intervention a response to the “sloppy thinking” of the pro-life position. Warnock said, “There are two different concepts,” terminal illness and disability, which should not be put together under the “general heading of the vulnerable about whom we hear, in my experience, all too much”.

Delamothe responds, “I hope Baroness Warnock lives for ever, although I know that she does not want to.”

Currently in Britain it is an offence punishable by a possible 14 years in prison to assist a person to commit suicide. The law, however, is under attack and last month the House of Lords judicial committee ordered the public prosecutors to “clarify” the terms under which it would be enforced.

Also in July, Baroness Campbell gave a powerful speech in the House of Lords that was credited with squashing an amendment to the coroners and justice bill that would have taken Britain one step closer to legalising assisted suicide. Meanwhile, the effort to change the law continues by a cadre of experienced and powerful government insiders.

Read related coverage:
Britain's Law Lords Rule in Favour of Assisted Suicide Seeker

“Victory”: Assisted Suicide Amendment Defeated in British House of Lords


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