by Care Alliance, 24 July 2017
#9. Why is assisted suicide seen as a compassionate act for young disabled people when suicide is seen as a tragedy for other young people?
- Not Dead Yet Aotearoa argue that part of the unease disabled people feel about euthanasia and assisted suicide “relates to evidence that lives of disabled people are valued less than those of others. There is a history of euthanasia and eugenics, which have gone hand in hand for disabled people … They were labelled ‘useless eaters’. Many disabled people today still feel the residual power of that label as they struggle with cuts to services, parsimonious supports and subtle pressures to find work.”
- Disabled people routinely face prejudice from able-bodied people who think people with their conditions are ‘better off dead’. Carol Gill has found that “health professionals significantly underestimate the quality of life of persons with disabilities compared with the actual assessments made by people with disabilities themselves” (page 530). In one study only 18% of physicians, nurses and technicians imagined they would be glad to be alive with a severe spinal cord injury – while 92% of a group of 128 persons with high-level spinal cord injuries said they were glad to be alive.
- Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, former Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and of the Disability Rights Commission, who has spinal muscular dystrophy has argued in the UK House of Lords: “ … imagine that it is already law and that I ask for assistance to die. Do your Lordships think that I would be refused? No; you can be sure that there would be doctors and lawyers willing to support my right to die. Sadly, many would put their energies into that rather than improving my situation or helping me to change my mind. The Bill offers no comfort to me. It frightens me because, in periods of greatest difficulty, I know that I might be tempted to use it. It only adds to the burdens and challenges which life holds for me”.
- A 2009 study found that people with physical disabilities were significantly more likely to seriously contemplate committing suicide, and the risk was even greater among younger people. These findings highlight the risks of euthanasia and assisted suicide for young disabled people in particular.
- “Assisted suicide laws create [a] discriminatory double standard for who gets suicide prevention and who gets suicide assistance.” John Fox notes: “We already know as disabled people that we have to fight to have a job, fight to be born, fight structural prejudice, patronising assumptions, and cultural realities which call us less than, and worth less. Those challenges are likely not equal for you and me, and the impact of David Seymour’s bill would not be equal either.”
Conclusion: Euthanasia and suicide, if legalised in New Zealand, will be practiced through the same prisms of social inequality, prejudice and discrimination that currently characterise the delivery of services (such as education and health) in all segments of society and which lead to poorer outcomes for less advantaged groups including disabled people. If euthanasia and assisted suicide are legalised, the risk of premature death would significantly increase for disabled people in a society which is ambivalent about disabled people who are pitied and/or perceived as having little or nothing to contribute while consuming large amounts of health resource.
“Encouraging the self-destructive urges of persons with disabilities who despair is not merciful or compassionate. It is dangerous for those individuals, for all disabled people as a devalued group, and ultimately for a society founded on equality”(Carol Gill).