Thursday, 5 June 2014

"We cannot let them steal our voice" disability activist rails against 'misleading' UK poll

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick OBE is convenor of NotDeadYet UK and Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe. He is commenting here on a recent UK poll of disabled persons wherein the pro-euthanasia lobby, the Orwellian, Dignity in Dying, claims majority support for the Falconer Bill before the House of Lords.

Repeated false claims of disabled people’s support for assisted suicide/euthanasia by GB pro-death lobby 

Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick OBE
I do not know of one DPO (disabled people’s organisation) inside or out of the UK, nor even any organisation providing services for disabled people (the big charities), that has come out in favour of legalising assisted suicide/euthanasia - and some of the latter are taking a deeper interest in working through the dangers of such legislation with their clients, even making public pronouncements counter-acting the pro-euthanasia lobby at times. 
So why should DiD persist that there is even any need for a ‘disability voice’ FOR euthanasia? They have always claimed their campaign is not to change the law for disabled people, but for those with only a few weeks or months to live. And there is no special pleading necessary for disabled people under their proposed law. 

Or are they arguing for disability rights for euthanasia? That still makes no sense. 

Therefore, is DiD really a lobby for assisted suicide for all disabled people and sick people, rather than people who are very sick and soon to die? 

I have raised this question before but I think it bears repeating: what is DiD’s real motive? 

The credentials of the four disabled people they have chosen as ‘activists’ are pretty nearly non-existent. In the world of legitimate disability activism one thing is clear: we are required to seek the views of large numbers of disabled people in order to speak on their behalf - it is called democracy. That is what we do. 

This new group of supposed disability activists are not spokespeople for any group of disabled people. And who do we find as one of them? A recently disabled journalist whose view is that ‘Humanity and economics demand that...assisted dying is extended to become legally available to all’?[1] A disability activist? What is incredible is that DiD and she can stoop to that level of pretence. 

The 2011 report published by the trumped-up Falconer ‘commission’ was crystal clear: 
 ‘assisted dying’ is a compendium term for assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. (p 37 my italics) 
So, as before, I make no apology for reverting to the proper terms – they are right there in the pro-death lobby’s report. Why did they not do a report demanding the very best palliative care for every citizen as a right? Well, as Falconer said: Britain is not ready for euthanasia – that is their aim – spending any of their millions on fighting for palliative care would not serve their goal. 

In a BBC programme (The Big Questions, 25 May 2014) this stupid claim was repeated – that the majority of disabled people want assisted suicide/euthanasia, though again it was camouflaged as ‘assisted dying’ so the wider public can be misled. 


The first time DiD tried this nonsense, they cited polling evidence - from a British Social Attitudes Survey in 2007 which did not even ask a question about assisted suicide/euthanasia! Remember that the survey sample in 2007 was 3,248 interviews, and the number interviewed on the disability section was around 2,100. 

There was absolutely no truth in the lobby’s first claim for disabled people’s support. Therefore I challenged them: ‘I believe this to be propaganda unless and until proven otherwise.’ 

I was not wrong. It was propaganda. 

So DiD commissioned two YouGov polls in 2013. The one they are using now was conducted 11-13th November 2013 when: 
  • a typhoon had devastated parts of the Philippines with thousands dead and more injured and displaced, with widespread destruction of property and infrastructure 
  • doctors reported to be ‘deserting’ UK Accident and Emergency hospital departments which were reported to be operating a two-tier system for patients as 12,000 patients were left on trolleys, alongside… 
  • ...a crisis in numbers of nurses
  • Britons were reportedly being lured by payment for their kidneys
  • consumers were faced with the threat of 17 years more of bigger and bigger energy bills
  • immigration was again said to be out of control (witness the recent UKIP gains 6 months later). 
The YouGov poll on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that November week were taken against that backdrop, and weather reports of a ‘killer storm’ on its way to Britain, also said to be heading for its biggest winter freeze. 

Why point all that out? Well, simply because I have no faith in polls, especially on questions of morality. The government is very wise not to poll for, say, bringing back the death penalty, because public opinion is heavily towards doing just that, for example. 

In any case, the day on which people are polled can have an effect, possibly too subtle to register even with the pollsters, never mind the general public. But any plebiscite is subject to that ignorance, tyranny and tabloid press opinion. 

Wilde said public opinion was ‘the attempt to organise the ignorance of the community, and to elevate it to the dignity of physical force’; I think that says precisely what the pro-death lobby are trying to do with our voice! Churchill, of course, famously said there was no such thing as public opinion; only published opinion. And then ‘there are lies, damn lies and statistics’: Mark Twain was not the only one to notice that simple truth. 

The sample size for this latest poll is down to just 1036, infinitesimally small, and as is true in every poll, the way questions are framed manipulates the answers, 

But, for the sake of honesty, we still have to examine the results of the latest poll commissioned by the pro-death lobby. 

The sample comprised of: 
…an unweighted, non-representative sample of people who say they receive disability benefits, disability living allowance, and/or who are within the permanently disabled of the employment status group 
So first, the sample members are unweighted – meaning that everyone’s response is undifferentiated – each has a value of 1 – in a simply random selection. There is no adjustment for difference: so the sample group might contain people with progressive terminal conditions or people with a missing tip of their finger. Yet, each still gets an equal voice on the question. 

But more, the sample is also non-representative, and is of people who say they receive certain benefits or are permanently disabled in employment status. There are apparently no checks or balances to determine if what they say is true, so some of the respondents could be non-disabled people defrauding the benefits system: who would know? And there is no analysis of discrimination in the employment market, by employers against disabled employees – in fact, no analysis of any relevant factor. 

In terms of manipulation, the first question of 4 is enough to tell all: it cites the conditions of Falconer’s Bill but dishonestly does not reference it. 
Currently it is illegal for a doctor to help someone who is mentally competent with a terminal illness (i.e. a progressive disease where the patient will more than likely die within 6 months) to control the timing of their death. A new assisted dying law would allow terminally ill adults the option of assisted dying. If two doctors agreed that the patient met upfront safeguards to determine whether they were terminally ill and likely to die within six months, were of sound mind, had made the decision entirely voluntarily and were informed of their end-of-life care options, the patient could be given a prescription for life-ending medication to take themselves (i.e. a doctor could not directly administer the medication to the patient). The law would not apply to those who did not have a terminal illness. Whether or not you would want the choice for yourself, to what extent do you support or oppose the legislation of assisted dying for adults of sound mind with a terminal illness? 
This question is so long and involves so many vague factors, just like the Bill, it deserves to be split into at least eight questions, if there is to be any clarity at all. But clarity was never the goal. Anyone who survived reading it, would have to study it at length, and research all eight questions before they could even be considered to have any kind of ‘voice of authority’ on the subject at hand. Who amongst the 1,036 could claim any such understanding, any authority? 

The lobby then take the result ‘Tend to support’ 32%, and join it to ‘strongly support’ 47%, to make a headline total of 79% of disabled people in favour of assisted suicide/euthanasia – except it does not. Tendencies are just that, leanings which may change dramatically in the face of greater understanding. But further, since none of the terms in the question is explained, the claim of support, even from those who were definite, is at best suspect, at worst sheer manipulation. 

Take the term ‘mentally competent’ for example: the age at which competence to make adult decisions varies between Scotland (16) and the rest of the UK (18). How the law would be applied differently is not in the question. Establishing ‘mental competence’ is not uncontroversial, even within the field of medicine, nor even within psychiatry. Do all respondents understand all the subtleties of the phrase? Hardly. 

‘Terminal illness’ supposed as 6 months or less to live is also fraught with confusion: and the possibilities of inaccuracy, error, self-protection by practitioners, wishful thinking, even perhaps a malign push towards euthanasia if the doctor subscribes to it all come in – including all those people who survive, sometimes for years after a ‘final prognosis’. 

‘Assisted dying’ - embracing assisted suicide and euthanasia – it is not the velvety cushion death most people imagine. So the question, on this basis alone, is misleading in a deep and serious manner. 

The ‘voluntary decision’ – an elderly patient’s children have repeatedly told her what a nuisance she is, that she has nothing to ‘hang on for’ and so on – she does not want ‘to be a burden’ and feels all the pressure, some of it not so subtle, but hidden from the medical team – she asks for euthanasia. Who would know? 

The ‘settled wish’ of the patient must be checked in law, but no-one ever thinks to check the doctors’ motivations in wanting to perform euthanasia at all. I believe any doctor who does want to do this is fundamentally suspect. Instead, we are expected to uncritically suppose that doctors are always best placed and always acting entirely and only with integrity and compassion in making such decisions – no exhaustion involved, no ‘playing God’, no economic arguments, no pressure from the (supposed to be always and only loving) family, nor any of the other factors that come into human lives, even those of doctors. 

What ‘upfront safeguards’? In Oregon ‘doctor shopping’ takes place resulting is deaths that ‘should not be’ - that is just one of many examples. So the suggestion that there can be safeguards against abuse of the proposed law is just false, when all the evidence shows that any regulation is either ignored, or wildly flouted in jurisdictions that allow assisted suicide/euthanasia. 

If ‘informing patients of their available options’ means telling them there are no viable options, no hospice, no palliative care team, no end-of-life care expertise available for them, what then is the value of informing them of their options? There is only death. No choice, no autonomy. 

I do not know many people will notice that the questions reflect Falconer’s Bill. In any case, there are so many fudges, assumptions and undefined terms that it is quite the most misleading poll question I have seen in a long time. 

Yet on the strength of it, or rather despite its inherent fatal weaknesses, and those of the three other much shorter but not much less problematic questions, DiD claim 79% of disabled people support a change in the law to allow the choice of assisted suicide/euthanasia . 

This is patent nonsense and they know it: it is a tactic if you keep throwing out even false survey results, more and more people will believe they must reflect public opinion. 

We cannot let them steal our voice: we must more and more come together as disabled people and advocates for disability rights and state clearly: we want support to live, and the right to the best care, not pressure to die. 

[1] The Times (March 27, 2012). 

No comments:

Post a Comment