petition causes uproar over assisted dying claims

  • Post last modified:February 20, 2024
  • Reading time:10 mins read

Content warning: this article contains discussion around assisted dying which some readers my find distressing.

A petition on is calling on the UK government to legalise assisted dying. It documents a person’s grandmother’s experience of living with dementia for 20 years – and uses this as the basis for the argument for euthanasia. However, part of the petition also says that for those “without compassion”, assisted suicide will “save” the NHS and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) money.

Rightly, many chronically ill and disabled people are not only distressed but also angry – as killing off members of their communities is exactly what some people in government would want. has told the Canary it has removed the petition.

Assisted dying: a complex issue

Assisted dying (also known as assisted suicide or euthanasia) is where people who are often terminally ill and who have very low quality of life can choose to die. However, the issue is controversial. Some countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland have legalised it. In the UK, it is still a criminal offence to support someone to take their own life.

The arguments for assisted dying include that it gives power and choice to the patient. The campaign group My Death, My Decision wrote:

Forcing someone in unyielding pain or distress to continue suffering against their will is wrong. It’s cruel, inhumane, and needs to change. The option of an assisted death is already a reality for more than 350 million people around the world – including in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and parts of America and Australia.

Half of doctors in the UK personally support changing the law, and the weight of public opinion overwhelmingly favours a right to die for those with terminal or intolerable conditions. The UK’s law is outdated and lacking in compassion.

A petition calling for a law change has reached nearly 50,000 signatures on After complaints, the site removed it. However, it and the issue of assisted dying are not without controversy – with the petition unwittingly summing up many people’s objections to it. ‘saving the NHS and DWP money’

The petition previously stated:

For those without compassion and reading this asking what the benefit besides letting people end things on their own terms, perhaps look at this as a way to save the NHS and DWP millions of pounds every year.

Clearly, the author of the petition was not endorsing this view. However, at best the wording is very clumsy – and at worst, should not have allowed it to be on the platform.

Paula Peters is a disability rights activist and public speaker. She told the Canary:

Seeing those words it would “save the NHS & DWP millions of pounds every year” is sickening, distressing. To say that no disabled person is worth health care or financial support and that we are better off dead is outrageous and has sinister undertones. should be ashamed and remove with immediate effect.

My dad had dementia. This petition is causing serious distress because of those words – and he would have hated it. He had awesome healthcare and had a State Pension and Attendance Allowance. The petitioner is saying that by saving the NHS and DWP millions a year he wasn’t worth it. That really wounds. This has hurt deeply.

Moreover, there are very clear examples of the UK government enacting policies which have directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of chronically ill, disabled, and older people.

Assisted dying: saving the state money

For example:

  • Boris Johnson’s government quite literally “let the bodies pile high” during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. It allowed older people to go back into care homes without testing – leading to the deaths of countless people. It emerged during the Covid Inquiry that top government officials wilfully made this decision, knowing the consequences. At the same time, it meant that the government did not need to spend so much money on PPE for care homes and virus testing.
  • At the DWP, between 2011 and 2018 nearly 35,000 chronically ill and disabled people died on the department’s watch – either because it said they had to work, had to look for work, or made them wait for a decision on their benefits. The UN said this and other intentional negligence by the DWP and governments were “grave” and “systematic” violations of chronically ill and disabled people’s human rights. It called the situation a “human catastrophe”. This was all under government reforms of the DWP to save money.

The point being, many people believe that under our current system assisted dying would not be used in the best interests of those who wish to be subject to it. Governments would use it, as directly noted by the petition’s author, to save money.

This seems to be happening in Canada right now. As Peters told the Canary:

We only have to see in Canada and the medically assisted in death (MAID) policy, the slippery slope the Canadian government have gone down – extending maid to disabled people who are not terminally ill and have a physical or chronic health condition. In March 2024, the Canadian government are looking at extending MAID to people in mental distress and teenage children in mental distress.

A dangerous path to go down?

Moreover, in the Netherlands and Canada people living with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS) are choosing assisted dying too.

This is particularly damning given the primary reason those patients are in that position in the first place is due to years of the medical profession refusing to research ME properly; labelling this chronic, neuroimmune illness as psychomatic. In the UK, this once again is linked to saving the government money – with the DWP being involved in fraudulent research into ME.

Essentially, the system is giving chronically people the medical support to die – but not the medical support to live.

In the UK, the push for legalised assisted dying would be unlikely to change under a Labour government either. As Peters noted:

Although we need an end to the Tory government and 14 years of Tory persecution and oppression of chronically ill and disabled people, Labour leader Keir Starmer’s position on assisted dying is deeply troubling and frightening and should be a deep concern to all disabled people.

In 2015, Starmer voted for the Assisted Dying Bill that was defeated in Parliament. In 2023, Starmer was calling for assisted dying to be legalised.

This is really scary and frightening. What’s to say that if assisted dying was legalised in the UK it was not extended to all disabled people and people in mental distress? It’s cheaper to assist us to die than give us the social care and NHS support we are entitled to, and allow our access needs to be met in society so we can live our lives. no comment, but petition removed

The Canary contacted for comment. We wanted to know why it allowed the petitioner to use the language they did. A spokesperson told us:

Our Policy team takes concerns around any possible negative impact on our users very seriously, and is reviewing the petition to ensure that it’s compliant with our community guidelines. Therefore the petition page is currently unavailable to the public. In the meantime, we have reached out to the petition starter in order to share our community guidelines with them.

It should be noted that it’s thanks to Mirror journalist Rachel Charlton-Dailey that are currently reviewing the petition.

Most people can empathise with terminally ill people wishing to end their own lives. However, under a corporate capitalist society the system and its proponents place a financial value on every human life in terms of what money-making value can be extracted from them.

When chronically ill, disabled, and older people make the government and system a net loss, then they undoubtedly would want to see their lives shortened. “Let the bodies pile high”, as Johnson said – because when push comes to shove – like during the pandemic – protecting the economy and therefore the super rich is more important than protecting the rest of us.

‘We are not expendable’

Assisted dying plays right into this agenda. As Giles Fraser wrote for the Guardian:

When the moral history of the 21st century comes to be written, I predict we will look back with horror at how the word choice became a sort of cuckoo in the nest, driving out all other values… The moral language of the supermarket has become the only moral currency that is accepted.

Which is why, for me, assisted dying is the final triumph of market capitalism: we have become consumers in everything, even when it comes to life and death. And as history demonstrates, the losers in this equation are always going to be the most vulnerable.

Ultimately, as Peters summed up:

Chronically ill and disabled people are not expendable and we are not disposable. Whomever gets elected in 2024, we must take the fight to all MPs and lobby them to reject any changes to make assisted dying legal.

It is impossible not to empathise with those who want to end their own life. However, society is not built to safely let that happen. And until such time that it is, we must be calling for the best medical research, health and palliative care, and state support for everyone.

Featured image via seventyfourimages – Envato Elements and Wikimedia

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