Tributes paid to peer who championed disability issues

September 5, 2009 at 1:22 pm 1 comment

baronesschapman

A member of the House of Lords who overcame disability to rise to the top of public life has died.

Baroness Chapman passed away on Thursday.

Born in August 1961 with brittle bone disease, Nicky Chapman went on to study maths and business management at Trinity and All Saints College in Leeds.

After her work as finance clerk with Leeds City Council and as chairwoman of the Leeds Centre for Integrated Living and the Leeds United Disabled Organisation, in 2004 she was selected under the People’s Peers scheme to be elevated to the House of Lords.

Baroness Chapman of Leeds in the County of West Yorkshire was the first person with a congenital disability to be appointed a life peer.

She sat as a cross-bencher.

She was nominated for a peerage by the Habinteg Housing Association, an organisation that provides practical support for those with disabilities, and which she chaired.

Lord Norton wrote on the Lords of the Blog:

“Though the House has a number of wheelchair-bound peers, she was the first person with a congenital disability to be appointed to the House.

“In many ways, she reflected what was distinctive about the House of Lords.

“The House is enriched by a diverse membership, able to contribute to debate from the perspective of particular experience or expertise.

“Nicky Chapman could speak with authority on disability issues and the House provided her with a valuable platform.

“She celebrated her 48th birthday last month.”

Baroness Chapman made a memorable maiden speech in January 2005, when she expressed “grave concern” about the Mental Capacity Bill.

“People are born and they die; those are the only two certainties in life,” she told the House.

“I have no doubt of the good intentions around the introduction of the Bill, but we must not lose the basic premise of a right to live in order to allow people the right to die.

“Although I can accept some of the arguments for sections of the Bill, it is virtually impossible for legislation to allow such measures in a way that is not open to the abuse of a licence to kill.

“‘Assessment of best interest’ and ‘burdensome’ should not be medical-model based, and should not focus only on the negative aspects of a persons condition.

“A situation that appears intolerable to people who are fit and well may be more than outweighed by the positive experiences of the patient.

“They have family and friends, relationships that are part of them being a rounded individual and not simply a condition or impairment.

“There is a clear line between increasing pain-control medication that may hasten death and withdrawing support that causes death. That line is the quality of life of the patient, however little life remains.

“I feel that at this point I should declare an interest.

“If the Bill had been passed 43 years ago, I would not be here.

“My parents were told that I would be blind, deaf, unable to communicate and have no noticeable mental function. Doctors and practitioners do get it wrong.

“We need to ensure that people have the opportunity to prove the medics wrong.

“Although protected from the Bill as a child, there would have been two or three occasions after childhood where, from a purely medical perspective, treatment could have been withdrawn from me.

“The Bill ignores the fact that people have a basic right to life; that issue cannot and must not be ignored.

“As I feel that I am beginning to cross the line into controversy, I will end by saying—I hope that noble Lords agree—that our first duty to the people of this land is to keep them safe.

“The less able and more dependent they are. the greater is that duty. As it stands, the Bill does not keep people safe.”

photo: Leeds Metropolitan University awarding Baroness Chapman an honorary degree in 2005.

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