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I Oppose Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia Because It Is Ableist

by Carol Cleigh Sutton, Not Dead Yet, 15 August 2017

Ms Sutton is a disability activist, and was a founding board member of the United States group Not Dead Yet when it formed in 1996.

The very heart of the argument for assisted suicide/euthanasia (AS/E) is that an individual may be better off dead than disabled.

The fact that this argument can be made in respectable public forums demonstrates just how ableist this society is. How deeply the severely abled fear and loathe those of us who live with disability.

Ableism, like racism and sexism, is an ugly prejudice that society holds towards its minority members.

This ideology, which we call BDTD (Better Dead Than Disabled), permeates ableist society, but even more deeply infects the medical system, and the more society in general accepts it, the more we encounter it every time we have to deal with medicine. My husband, who was nearly 80 and disabled, was brought to the hospital by ambulance after a heart attack. Until I arrived and started raising the roof, they put him in a dark room in the back. He should have been connected to an EKG and given aspirin, and IV lines should have been established. But because he was disabled, he received none of this. They assumed he’d want to die. Thankfully, we had years after that, but if I’d been held up in traffic? Would their killing him have been prosecuted? Investigated?

Are you really wanting to create this ‘special class’ of people who can be killed and no one prosecuted? A class whose deaths won’t even be investigated? Is your ableism so strong that you’d change the law to allow others to kill us without consequence?

Click here to read the full article.

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Australia: Voters ‘wary of rushing euthanasia laws, don’t trust MPs to get it right’

by Rebecca Urban, The Australian, 27 July 2017

Ms Urban reports on a recent poll in Victoria, Australia which shows that most people “have serious reservations about the impending ­introduction of voluntary euthanasia laws, and most do not trust the state’s politicians to oversee a decision on the contentious issue”.

The statewide poll, conducted by anti-euthanasia lobby HOPE Inc, revealed 49 per cent of respondents did not want the proposed legislation to be rushed, claiming too many unanswered questions remained. A further 21 per cent were adamantly opposed to legalising euthanasia.

Just 30 per cent said, “just get on with it and legalise it”, when asked their preferred outcome.

The findings from the poll, which took place in the first week of May, involving interviews with more than 1000 people of various ages and geographic locations, ­diverge greatly from other polls on the issue in recent years, which have shown public support for ­euthanasia laws to be as high as 85 per cent in some instances.

Click here to read the full article.

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Care Alliance Welcomes Health Select Committee Report

by Care Alliance, 2 August 2017

The Care Alliance has welcomed the report of the Health Select Committee’s investigation into the desire to end one’s life, which was tabled in the House today.

“The Committee received nearly 22,000 unique written submissions and heard nearly 1,000 oral submissions,” said Matthew Jansen, Secretary of the Care Alliance. “While eighty percent of those submissions were opposed to the legalisation of euthanasia, the report is a careful and thorough summary of both sides of the issue.”

“We disagree with some of the language and statements in the Report, especially the use of the euphemistic term ‘assisted dying’. Overall, however, we think it is a useful starting point for discussing the issues. It will make sobering reading for anybody who thinks that legalising euthanasia could ever be safe, simple and straight forward.”

“That is why we too ‘encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to read the report in full’,” said Mr Jansen. “It would also be useful if future public polling asked whether respondents had read the report.”

“We extend our thanks to the Committee’s members and staff for the respectful and considerate way they listened to all voices,” said Mr Jansen. “They have heard powerful personal evidence about how we can and should do better to care for each other.”

Click here to read the Committee’s report.

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10 Questions for David Seymour: #10

by Care Alliance, 25 July 2017

Click here to view the 10 Questions For David Seymour website, with questions (and answers!) being added between 12 July and 25 July.

#10. Would a person with chronic arthritis be eligible?

  • Those eligible for euthanasia under the David Seymour Bill include people who are not terminally ill. A person is eligible for euthanasia if he or she is “in an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability” and experiencing “intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner that her or she considers tolerable”.
  • David Seymour’s Bill defines eligibility using the terms: “grievous and irremediable”, “irreversible decline” and “unbearable”, making the extent of coverage both subjective and wide-ranging.
  • These conditions for eligibility are very similar to those that apply in the Netherlands, which now provides euthanasia to people with disabilities, with psychiatric disorders and with dementia. Cases there have included a person with “aging-related conditions, including arthrosis of the knee, pain from vertebral compression fractures caused by osteoporosis, headaches, poor kidney function, incontinence, impaired vision, atrial fibrillation and hemiparesis following a CVA” and “the feeling that life was no longer meaningful” because of functional decline and dependence on others (Annual Report 2014, p. 23).

Conclusion: Someone with chronic arthritis would be eligible for euthanasia under David Seymour’s Bill. The Bill is based on widely-drawn parameters that would include many persons suffering from incurable, but relatively common, conditions.

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10 Questions for David Seymour: #9

by Care Alliance, 24 July 2017

Click here to view the 10 Questions For David Seymour website, with questions (and answers!) being added between 12 July and 25 July.

#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”.

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  • 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).

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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.

Click here to read the full article.

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Baroness Warnock: Dementia sufferers may have a ‘duty to die’

by Martin Beckford, The Telegraph, 18 September 2008

Nine years ago Mr Beckford reported on the musings of Baroness Warnock, Britain’s ‘leading moral philosopher’ and ‘veteran Government adviser’.

Lady Warnock said: “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.

“I’m absolutely, fully in agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then someone should be given help to die, but I feel there’s a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they’re a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.

“Actually I’ve just written an article called ‘A Duty to Die?’ for a Norwegian periodical. I wrote it really suggesting that there’s nothing wrong with feeling you ought to do so for the sake of others as well as yourself.”

She went on: “If you’ve an advance directive, appointing someone else to act on your behalf, if you become incapacitated, then I think there is a hope that your advocate may say that you would not wish to live in this condition so please try to help her die.

I think that’s the way the future will go, putting it rather brutally, you’d be licensing people to put others down.

More recently, veteran Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee endorsed the sentiment:

Another bad argument is that the frail will be intimidated into hastening the end of their lives so as not to be a burden on their children. Well, why not?

Click here to read the full Telegraph article.

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10 Questions for David Seymour: #8

by Care Alliance, 21 July 2017

Click here to view the 10 Questions For David Seymour website, with questions (and answers!) being added between 12 July and 25 July.

#8 How does this not undermine suicide prevention efforts?

Click here if you or someone you know needs help.

“Familial transmission of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts: evidence from a general population sample.” (Goodwin, Renee D., Annette L. Beautrais, and David M. Fergusson, 2004).

“Exposure to the suicidal behaviour of family members has been well-established as a risk factor for youth suicidal behaviour in the professional literature” (M. Franci Crepeau‐Hobson, and Nancy L. Leech)

“Risk of suicidal behaviours among those exposed to the suicide is significantly higher than those unexposed” (Maple, Myfanwy, et al. 2016)

Conclusion: Providing suicide assistance for some undermines suicide prevention for everyone. There is no bright line between so-called ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ suicide because all the same social, economic and health factors are involved.

Click here if you or someone you know needs help.

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10 Questions for David Seymour: #7

by Care Alliance, 20 July 2017

Click here to view the 10 Questions For David Seymour website, with questions (and answers!) being added between 12 July and 25 July.

#7 How much money will this save in healthcare spending?

  • The ‘unthinkable’ idea that older people cost too much to be cared for, and that this is a sufficient reason for legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide, is taking hold in New Zealand as evidenced in numerous public submissions to the recent Health Select Committee Investigation into Ending One’s Life in NZ, mostly from older people. The following excerpts from submissions to the Health Select Committee are illustrative of this thinking:

“This drive to keep people alive at all costs soaks up a huge amount of resources – human as well as financial – which could be better invested in vulnerable children at the beginning of their lives.”

“The cost of both Nursing Homes and Palliative care is enormous and we believe that themoney spent on this could be used for medical research or for patients that can get long term benefit.”

“Many people who would opt for medically assisted dying (MAD) depend heavily on the Health Services. When they would make use of MAD the Health Services would save much money, They can use that for people urgently needing the Health Services. Wait ing lists could be reduced and subsequently the suffering of patients.”

  • It has been estimated that euthanasia and assisted suicide will reduce annual health care spending in Canada by between $34.7 million and $138.8 million. The very existence of this report highlights the frightening prospect that money and markets are likely to influence the scope and reach of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the event that it was ever legalised in New Zealand.
  • There is evidence from physicians that “insurance companies in states where assisted suicide is legal have refused to cover expensive, life-saving treatments for [their] patients but have offered to help them end their lives instead … The patients were not terminal, but ‘would have become terminal without the procedures. It was estimated that their chance for cure — cure, not just adding time — [was] about 50 percent in one case and 70 percent in the other case.’” In 2008, two patients from Oregon who were on Medicaid – ‘the state’s health insurance plan for the poor’ – were denied state-sponsored treatment but told the state would pay for assisted suicide.
  • The language used to refer to our elders all too frequently draws on pejorative descriptors (such as ‘tsunami’ – see here p. 181 and here) when commenting on the growing numbers of elders. In a context where there is increasing pressure on healthcare resources, it is telling that media reports routinely focus on the future financial ‘cost’ and ‘burden’ of caring for older people – for example dementia. In a regime where euthanasia and assisted suicide were legal, this could, in the future, play into the hands of health administrators and politicians wanting to find “easy” savings in the health budget and be seen as ‘not unreasonable’ by a public who have gradually bought into the same negative ideas about the burdens (personal, familial and societal) of ageing.
  • Studies show that there is a strong link between cost-cutting pressure on physicians and their willingness to prescribe lethal drugs to patients in the event these drugs could be legally prescribed (p. 18).
  • In the context of a healthcare system that is stretched and in which some people have better access to quality palliative care than others, it is foreseeable that the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide would have a potentially greater negative impact on those with fewer resources to navigate the health system. As Hirini Kaa has written: “The problem is, what is ‘choice’? For the middle class advocates who have been pushing this issue, ‘choice’ is a wonderful thing … But what I also know will happen is that those on the margins will have less ‘choice’. When their whanau can’t afford the petrol to come and visit them in hospital, when they don’t like the nurses and doctors, when the power bill is due at home, when you are whakama (ashamed) of your situation – you name it, the problems mount up for poor sick people far beyond the medical … Then, the ‘choice’ becomes much clearer.” In other words, euthanasia and assisted suicide, if legalised, will be practiced through the same prisms of social inequality, prejudice and discrimination that currently characterises the delivery of other state-funded services (such as education and health) in our society and which lead to poorer outcomes for certain (less advantaged) groupings.

Conclusion: There will be ongoing and increasing pressure on future governments to control healthcare spending. When taxpayer money is involved, moral, social and public policy issues will arise beyond those presently recognised and intended by advocates of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

A law change allowing euthanasia or assisted suicide will be permanent but health policies and health services will be subject to the vagaries of insurance companies, future parliaments and economic climates. The scope of a euthanasia and assisted suicide policy that is implemented in a society increasingly shaped by negative perceptions of the elderly as a ‘burden’ will be influenced by discussions related to the affordability of end-of-life care.

Even if politicians reassure us now that cost savings are not part of the motivation for euthanasia and assisted suicide, this could easily change in the event such deaths become more and more the norm. In this context, economic considerations would contribute to a strong climate of coercion for a premature death for many people.

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‘Leftie, feminist, academic’ Shakira Hussein: “Why I don’t support euthanasia (and you shouldn’t either)”

by Shakira Hussein, Crikey, 17 May 2016

Dr Hussein is a writer and academic at the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies, University of Melbourne, researching issues of gender, multiculturalism, gendered violence and radicalisation.

She wrote last year: “I considered that opposition to euthanasia was a cause for right-wing social conservatives, not for leftie feminists like me.”

Then she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

As the disease becomes more active, I began to see the ways in which the campaign to legalise euthanasia devalues the lives of people living with a disability and/or chronic disease.

The legalisation of euthanasia is Greens policy and is widely supported by many who would consider themselves to be broadly left-wing and/or feminist. Yet I would argue that this constituency ought to be very wary of the attitudes and assumptions underlying legalised euthanasia.

Studies have found that support for euthanasia is significantly lower among African-Americans than among the general population. Some analysts speculate that this is due to higher levels of religiosity, and this may well play a role. But in a society that is still coming to terms with the idea that “Black Lives Matter”, it is not paranoid for African-Americans to be concerned about the implications of medically assisted suicide.

Click here to read the full article.