Opinion: Wanting zero suicides and dignity in dying are neither contradictory nor hypocritical

DADiDMany Lib Dems may not have been aware of the fact that amongst disabled activists recently, the Party has been at the centre of a hotly debated issue over suicide prevention and the legalising of assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent dying people.

Earlier this month, Leader Nick Clegg hosted a mental health conference with Liberal Democrat Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb. Together, they announced the admirable ambition of the NHS working towards ‘zero suicides’ – a key target for suicide prevention of people with mental health issues.

Policy launches normally induce merely mild nausea from most but some have questioned how a ‘zero suicides’ target can exist within a Party that as recently as June of last year, surveys found 82% of Lib Dems back giving terminally ill adults the option of an assisted death.

Those opposing assisted dying have labelled the party “guilty of hypocrisy” by the appearance of valuing the lives of those with mental health issues over those with long-term and life-limiting conditions.

Aside from the fact that Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill only applies to terminally ill people with less than 6 months left to live, opponents have chosen to attack the party of Liberalism on fulfilling its commitment of breaking down established taboos surrounding mental health as well as dignity in dying through supporting a free vote on assisted dying.

Preventing the loss of vulnerable people, be they disabled or not, and affording terminally ill dying people the right to control their last few weeks are not inconsistent aims of a party focused on a fairer society.

What is contradictory, is for opponents of change to suggest that setting a new ambition for ‘zero suicides’ should somehow stall the rights of the dying whilst frightening disabled people (and disabled voters) into thinking that the Liberal Democrats don’t believe their lives as are as valuable as people with only a mental health issue.

As a disabled person, an assisted dying campaigner and a Lib Dem activist myself – I’m here to say that this is simply untrue and should be made clear as such by all of us!

Opponents say that because dying people would be able to take control of their illness and end their lives through a new law then it should be classed as suicide. Fortunately, the House of Lords disagreed only the other week with 63% voting not to include the word “suicide” in the Bill; recognising that assisted dying is about the right, when dying, to die well.

Many Peers spoke that day, not least Baroness Sal Brinton, Party President and distinguished supporter of Disabled Activists for Dignity in Dying (DADiD), saying that the Bill is about “patients coming to an informed decision about when they wish to end their life when medical practitioners have said that their condition is terminal”.

For a Party to want to break down established prejudices around mental health whilst supporting its members and Parliamentarians to diligently discuss the rights of dying people, this sets out a clear and consistent approach to safeguarding vulnerable people and protecting the free will of those who are mentally competent.

If Norman Lamb, Sal Brinton and an overwhelming majority of the membership can make this distinction, let’s hope those opposing change soon do so too.

* Greg Judge is Campaigns Support Officer for Dignity in Dying. He also coordinates the Disabled Activists for Dignity in Dying (DADiD) - a campaign group led by disabled people for a disabled supporters group for assisted dying for the terminally ill.

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This entry was posted in The Independent View.


  • Helen Tedcastle 2nd Feb '15 - 4:18pm

    Okay .et’s keep this simple: Assisted dying is a euphemism for assisted suicide. Suicide is the deliberate and intentional action to bring about one’s own death.

    Whether someone is a young person with depression or a terminally ill fifty year old with depression, suicidal thoughts are suicidal thoughts. These thoughts can easily and are easily disguised.

    It is a strange society indeed if it becomes culturally acceptable to give a terminally ill person lethal drugs to commit suicide, yet move heaven and earth to save a person who wants to jump off a bridge.

  • Kay Kirkham 3rd Feb '15 - 10:31am

    Helen – the essential difference between the two scenarios which you describe is that one person s terminally ill – that is they will die within 6 months, and the other is treatable if reached in time. That’s why the Lib Dem policy in relation to mental illness is absolutely right.

  • Phil Rimmer 3rd Feb '15 - 10:35am

    Very well said Gregg, nice to see some crystal clear Liberal thinking in the party.

  • SIMON BANKS 3rd Feb '15 - 1:38pm

    I agree with Helen’s comment on the terminology. But there’s another important distinction between the two situations Helen describes. The terminally ill person will have reached a settled conviction over some time. If this is not so, death should not be assisted. This is where safeguards are important. The person about to throw him/herself from the bridge in all likelihood did not intend suicide yesterday and might not want it tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow. The actions of emergency services in this case can prevent an impulsive act from which there is no retreat.

  • Helen Tedcastle 3rd Feb '15 - 7:10pm

    Kay Kirkham
    ‘ the essential difference between the two scenarios which you describe is that one person s terminally ill – that is they will die within 6 months, and the other is treatable if reached in time.’

    So because someone has a terminal illness and ‘untreatable’ it is not surprising they might want to kill themselves? This is the problem. A change in the law will bring a change in attitudes towards the terminally ill. Anyone who has worked with the dying as the Hospice movement do, know that often terminal illness will not follow a diagnosis of six months to live – with the right treatment and care, people can live for up to a year.

    If we take the route of assisted suicide, we will never know how many people lost valuable months of life, because they made an apparently ‘rational’ choice to kill themselves a few weeks after diagnosis.

    There is nothing rational about suicide, ‘assisted’ or otherwise.

  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '15 - 12:30pm

    Now if this man was found to have a terminal illness diagnosed with six months to live and he was determined to end it all, did the woman act responsibly or not?


    According to those who have decided to distinguish between suicide and assisted suicide, what is the rational thing to do in this case? Establish the man’s ‘rationality’ and personal autonomy and let him jump if the boxes have been ticked, or do the compassionate, human thing and save life – however much time is left?

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