PRESS RELEASE: ‘We’re All Equal’ calls on Manx public to stand up for equality and reject disability discrimination up to birth in proposed Bill

The ‘We’re All Equal’ campaign is calling on the Manx public to show they reject disability discrimination by responding to a public consultation on a new proposed law on the Isle of Man.

The current law on the island is more progressive than UK law because it takes into account scientific and medical advances in determining whether a disabled unborn baby should live or die. So while it allows for abortion up to 24 weeks on the grounds that “if the child were to be born at full term it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be… seriously handicapped”, it also requires two doctors to agree in ‘good faith’ “that the handicap is not capable of being cured or substantially relieved by treatment or the passage of time”. ‘We’re All Equal’ understands that the effect of this has been that the application of the disability provision has been very limited.

The proposed law would drag the Isle of Man backwards because it would deliberately delete that provision (requiring consideration of medical treatment that might remove or substantially relieve the impairment possessed by the child, or support that might be offered to). The proposed law would also further weaken protection against disability discrimination by allowing one doctor to take the hugely significant decision as to whether a disabled baby should live or die.

It would also further weaken protections against disability discrimination by allowing only one doctor to take the hugely significant decision as to whether a disabled baby should live or die.

‘We’re All Equal’ are also concerned about the offensive use of outdated and offensive language like ‘defects’, and ‘handicap’ in the draft bill. They see this language as deeply discriminatory and believe it has no place in progressive societies, let alone being enshrined into legislation. This law would make the situation on the Isle of Man even worse, establishing and worsening disability discrimination in Manx law.

The campaign is asking that all Manx citizens who care about disability equality write in to the public consultation and ask for the discriminatory provisions within the Bill to be removed, focusing instead on the information for parents of children with impairments and other forms of social support that will allow every person on the Island to live lives of dignity and fulfilment, regardless of their ability.

Disability rights campaigner and severely disabled member of the House of Lords, Kevin Shinkwin, said:

“I don’t understand why the Isle of Man should want to go backwards on disability equality. Surely this consultation is a fantastic opportunity to reject disability discrimination and stand up for Manx values and respect for equality”.

“I wonder what the reaction would be if a law was proposed or existed that explicitly allowed abortion up to birth because of a baby’s race, or sex, or (if it could be detected) sexual orientation. I think every Manx person would quite rightly be appalled and call out such discrimination. We need to ask ourselves why it’s so different for disability. As a severely disabled human being, I know I have as much right to be here as anyone else. Just because I’m severely disabled doesn’t make me any less human”.

“This proposed law is dangerous and demeaning. In effect, it would say that, after birth, someone like me can be good enough for the queen to send me to the House of Lords, but that right up to birth and because of my severe disability, I’m only good enough for the incinerator. This destructive denial of disabled human beings’ equal right to exist reflects an institutionalised hatred of disability that dares not speak its name. Writing it into Manx law would bring shame upon the proud people of the Isle of Man. I urge anyone who believes in genuine equality to respond to the consultation and make clear that they will have nothing to do with such bigotry”.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

  • For more information on the ‘We’re All Equal’ campaign visit www.allequal.org.uk or contact ukwereallequal@gmail.com
  • The ‘We’re All Equal’ campaign, which includes disabled people, their families and supporters, backs Lord Shinkwin’s Bill on disability equality before birth: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/abortiondisabilityequality.html
  • The proposed law would mean that between 15-24 weeks one doctor could decide that the “foetus is or will be affected by a physical or mental defect which… will have a seriously debilitating effect on the child”, and after 24 weeks right up to birth one doctor could decide that “there is a substantial risk that, were the child born alive… it would suffer mental or physical abnormalities that would result in a serious handicap”.
  • The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have consistently criticised countries which provide for abortion in a way which distinguishes between foetuses on the basis of disability, most notably Austria, Hungary and Spain, citing Article 5 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • The Disability Rights Commission (since subsumed within the Equality and Human Rights Commission) said that this aspect of the Abortion Act “is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability…[and] is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally”.
  • The 2013 Parliamentary Inquiry into Abortion for Disability found the vast majority of those who gave evidence believed allowing abortion up to birth on the grounds of disability is discriminatory, contrary to the spirit of the Equality Act 2010 and that it affects wider public attitudes towards discrimination. The Inquiry recommended Parliament reviews the question of allowing abortion on the grounds of disability and should consider repealing section 1(1)(d) of the Abortion Act which allows for it.