John Fox: Assisted dying devalues the disabled

by John Fox, The Spinoff, 18 July 2017

Dr Fox is a trustee of the Elevate Christian Disability Trust.

One of my first memories is pain. It was my first hospital operation, a corrective surgery to make it easier to walk. People advanced on four year old me to remove my cast and mobilise my feet. My parents tried vainly to distract me, as I tried to find the face of my favourite nurse. I still remember that feeling of radical vulnerability, pinned to a table, trying to find words to explain what was happening, trying to feel safe.

It’s that feeling that came back to me last month, when David Seymour’s End of Life Choices bill was pulled from the ballot.

It seems so reasonable, and Mr Seymour makes the argument with the slightly rabid consistency of the convinced Libertarian. “My life, and my death, is my business”. Buttressed by really tragic and truly awful situations like those of Lecretia Seales, who would welcome pain? And of course, shouldn’t we let people who find no value in their lives make the choice to end them?

No. Here is why.

I live with a mild form of cerebral palsy and various associated problems including spastic hemiplegia. I know from first-hand experience how hard it is to be physically vulnerable, to lose control of one’s own body, how hard it can be to depend on other people, how easy it is to feel like a burden. From this angle I have every human sympathy with Lecretia Seales and others like her who show us how real, ugly and frightening death can be.

But I’m also a trustee of a disability organisation that has a 40 year history of advocating for the vulnerable. For many people we see at Elevate, suffering is a fact of life. We reject, and we resent, the idea that being sick, or even terminally ill, takes away our dignity. Many of us have incurable conditions, some much worse than mine, that would qualify under the bill’s massively broad drafting: the blind, the deaf, those with chronic pain, or long-term disability. And me.

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