Byline: FRANCES HARDY
FEW people have shown such provocative contempt of medical opinion as Baroness Chapman. When she was born, doctors predicted her life would be brief and worthless.
'They said I'd be blind, deaf and with no mental function. There was no expectation that I would achieve anything. My life was worth nothing,' she says. 'They told my parents to put me in a home and leave me to die. But I'm stubborn. I didn't stop breathing.
I didn't die. It wasn't deliberate - I didn't do it out of spite - I just lived.' Baroness Chapman, recently appointed to the House of Lords as a People's Peer, has spent her life continuing to treat the bleak predictions of 'experts' with her own brand of life-affirming defiance.
In an Upper House characterised in the popular imagination by dusty old age, she is a diminutive, lively figure propelling herself around the corridors in her electric wheelchair.
The baroness was born Nicky Chapman in 1961 with more than 50 fractures caused by brittle bone disease, a disability that few Not only has she lived, she has also triumphantly exceeded the doctors' scant expectations.
She has worked as a teacher. She is a potent and vociferous campaigner for disabled rights, often in stubborn breach of political correctness. And she is the first person with a congenital disability to become a peer.
As such, her fears about the Government's Mental Capacity Bill, which reaches its report stage in a week's time, have the ring of personal authority.
She is concerned that proposals for 'living wills' - allowing the debilitated the right to refuse medical treatment - could become a licence to kill.
'I think anyone with an impairment will be in danger if they become ill,' she says. 'People with no capacity still have a right to live.
'I would not want to legalise euthanasia, but this would be the start of it.
There is a huge danger that the next of kin will be coerced into making decisions on behalf of their sick relatives.
'There are lots of aspects to this Bill that make it dangerous. For example, someone might write a will at the age of 20 saying they don't want to live with a progressive degenerative disease. But what seems untenable at that age may not be so horrendous at 40 or 50. People learn to adapt.
UNLESS such wills are revoked in time, their contents will be acted upon.
The incapacitated could be allowed to die.' Indeed, had the baroness been born today, she believes the medical profession would have hastened her death. As she euphemistically expresses it, doctors would have been 'more proactive' in accepting it.
She feels a strong affinity with the parents of 16-month-old Charlotte Wyatt, who continues to live in defiance of medical opinion and a court order forbidding resuscitation should she stop breathing. Doctors believe she is deaf and blind with no discernible quality of life.
The diagnosis has a striking resonance for the baroness who, despite being given the same prognosis at birth, could, in fact, see and hear, and leads a life rich in achievement and pleasure.
Baroness Chapman, who visited Charlotte in hospital this week, says: 'She is not, in my opinion, deaf or blind. She is aware of what is going on around her.
'Of course she has developmental problems, but she also has a quality of life. Her parents love her. They are prepared to care for her. She should be given every chance.' Indeed, were it not for her own parents' tenacity and love, Baroness Chapman would have been consigned to a bleak upbringing in an institution.
As it was, Peter Chapman, a textile technologist, and his wife Marlene - who died of cancer 15 years ago - resolved that no one but themselves would care for their only daughter. She grew up in Leeds with her two brothers, without cosseting or allowances for her disability.
'My parents said I was their child and they would bring me up as part of their family. …