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Yes to debate but no to fake news on assisted dying

As Noel Conway's case approaches its hearing at the Court of Appeal on 1 May, what can we expect the debate going on outside of the court to look like?

Sadly, when it comes to opponents of assisted dying, I've come to expect fake news.

By the time Noel’s case was heard at the High Court in July 2017, Noel was too unwell to make the trip to London. At first I was disappointed for Noel but when I was outside court and saw the behaviour of our opponents, I was actually pleased he was not there.

Opponents outside court with fake coffins
UNACCEPTABLE: Some opponents brought fake coffins to Noel’s hearing


Lies, puppets and more lies

Before the hearing Not Dead Yet UK announced that they were intervening in Noel’s case. Baroness Jane Campbell said that,“In every country where assisted suicide has been made legal, original safeguards have been watered down, allowing the parameters to widen”. Of course Baroness Campbell is entitled to disagree with Noel, but this claim is just not true.

Perhaps opponents think if they repeat these falsehoods frequently enough, they can convince the public to believe them. Sadly, the church in Guernsey recently used a similar tactic in an attempt to close down the debate there.

I’ve come to expect that opponents might try to make this debate about something it’s not. But I was not prepared for Noel’s hearing last July to be turned into a cheap circus with the presence of fake coffins and ridiculous puppets. Despite the obvious insensitivity of having fake coffins at a dying man’s case, both Dr Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship and Not Dead Yet have ignored my request on Twitter asking them to respect Noel’s views and condemn these hurtful campaign tactics. Christian Concern has even made a video featuring the coffins. How this is ‘speaking for Jesus in public life’ (which is what Christian Concern claims to do) I don’t know.

Despite being challenged on their tactics, opponents of choice at the end of life continued to spread misinformation about Noel’s case. Care Not Killing issued this statement in October: “Mr Conway’s case is substantially the same as that of Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb in 2014, except that his condition is terminal”. This is clearly wrong, as Noel’s case challenges a different area of the law and puts forward a detailed proposal of safeguards for assisted dying along with fresh evidence on more recent developments.

I have no idea why this falsehood was put out by Care Not Killing, and spread by other opponents such as Christian Concern, but out of respect for dying people I think they should stick to the facts.

Listen to Noel

My message to opponents of assisted dying is simple. You’re entitled to oppose Noel, but please do so with respect and listen to what he has to say. This is what Noel has said about the fake coffins:

I found this particularly hurtful…Members of these groups falsely claim to understand what it is like to be me. But they cannot possibly understand – they are not terminally ill.