LONDON, January 31, 2014 ( – “I do not want to contemplate assisted dying,” a disabled man told the BBC last week, but he gets asked about it every day. “Michael,” who called the BBC Radio’s Breakfast programme, said he has motor neuron disease, a wasting disorder that was made famous by cosmologist Stephen Hawking, and does not want to commit suicide.

In the brief call, Michael summed up the concerns of many who oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide, who say that legalisation, even with “safeguards,” will create social pressure for disabled people to kill themselves.

“Many people ask me, several times a week,” Michael continued, “and I guarantee today I will get asked, if I ever contemplate it. And it makes one feel like I should be contemplating it, for the sake of the health service, or my family watching what I’m going through.”


He added, “I’m afraid that it will extend into the social conscience that people almost expect assisted dying.” He warned that a law to allow assisted suicide “is going to pressurize other people.”

The comments come in the wake of controversial scenes appearing earlier this month in the long-running soap Coronation Street. Popular character Hayley Cropper, played since 1998 by Julie Hesmondhalgh, who was suffering from terminal cancer, commits suicide in the presence of her husband in order to avoid the pain of her disease.

The main media sources in Britain all praised the scenes, with the “conservative” Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail calling them, respectively, “brave and moving” and “sensitive.”

Parliamentarians continue to chip away at the laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia, with the assistance of bioethicists who assure both Commons committees and the public that human rights will be protected by legal safeguards. But Anthony Ozimic, communications manager for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), told that the comments highlight the difference in opinion between “ethicists” who defend “assisted dying” and the disabled whose lives such theories actually affect.

“I think there is a disconnect between the experience of disabled people in terms of the threats to their personal safety by the removal of legal safeguards, and the airy views of certain ethicists and commentators who blithely claim that these safeguards will be sufficient to defend their rights,” Ozimic said.

He echoed Michael’s comment that there is increasing pressure on disabled people “in the context of the home, in hospitals, discussions in the workplace where assisted suicide and euthanasia is frequently put forward and even imposed into discussions as a sensible option.”

The threat of the growing social expectation of “mercy killing” for disabled people is already playing out in women’s medicine, he said, “where pregnant women are routinely offered abortion in hospital when a possible disability is diagnosed in the child.”

In such cases, he added, “contraception and sterilization are normally offered after childbirth with the expectation that it will be accepted. And when refused, that person is told she is being unreasonable and selfish.”

“If you don’t regard it as a possible option,” he said, “you are thought to either belong to some strange minority, stuck in outdated religious notions or you are failing to take the reasonable expectations of society that certain types of people must not create a burden on the health service and others around them.”