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 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 00:48 GMT
Euthanasia fears for disabled
Diane Pretty
Diane Pretty unsuccessfully fought for the right to die
Many people are suspicious that moves to make euthanasia legal in the UK could put disabled people in a vulnerable position, a poll suggests.

The survey, by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) found that the public is deeply split on the need for laws sanctioning the legal right to die.

The current debate about euthanasia has made some terrible assumptions about the quality of disabled people's lives

Liz Sayce
The poll - the first to be carried out since the death of 'Miss B' and Diane Pretty - found support for euthanasia is outweighed by concerns about the need to ensure greater protection for disabled people against discrimination in the health system.

The poll found that 63% thought there should be new laws to make euthanasia or assisted suicide possible.

However, more than eight of ten respondents said measures were needed to protect disabled people from the use of 'do not resuscitate notices' and the withholding or withdrawal of treatment.

Discrimination

A report by Disability Awareness in Action found that many disabled people have been denied medical treatment or basic personal care because of their disability.

For example, a nine-year-old girl with Downs Syndrome was refused a life-saving heart transplant because of her impairment despite an announcement by Great Ormond Street Hospital that it considered children with Downs Syndrome suitable for transplants.

Other research has found people with learning difficulties have a lower life expectancy from cancer and much lower rates of screening.

The Department of Health reported that uptake for cervical screening for women with learning disabilities was 20% compared with a UK figure of 85%.

Liz Sayce, director of policy and communications at the DRC said: "The current debate about euthanasia has made some terrible assumptions about the quality of disabled people's lives.

"It has rarely included the voices of disabled people and their right to live and we must see the balance redressed."

The cases of 'Miss B' and Diane Pretty both generated huge amounts of publicity on the right-to-die issue.

'Miss B' won the right to have her ventilator switched off, while Diane Pretty failed to get the European court to back her case of assisted suicide.

The DRC is holding a public debate on issues surrounding the right to die on Monday in London.

A spokesman for the Voluntary Euthanasia Society said: "I am pleased to see a clear majority of disabled people supporting a change in the law to allow terminally ill adults the option of asking for medical help to die.

"However, I am concerned only 81% of respondents felt greater protection against discrimination in medical care was needed.

"No one should ever be denied medical treatment or basic personal care because of their disability."

See also:

29 Apr 02 | Health
12 May 02 | Health
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