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Not a big deal, David Seymour? For disabled people the idea of assisted suicide couldn’t be bigger

by Robyn Hunt, The Spinoff, 24 August 2016

Robyn Hunt, co-convenor of Not Dead Yet Aotearoa (a member of the Care Alliance), explains to David Seymour why assisted suicide is a really big deal for disabled people.

I assure David Seymour that assisted suicide is a really big and complicated deal. It is no coincidence that disabled people all over the world oppose it. Our opposition arises from a (largely invisible) dark and troubled history, negative attitudes and behaviours towards disabled people and current human rights abuses. Disabled people see assisted suicide as dangerous because of their already marginalised status. Some disabled people are particularly vulnerable.

Disabled and other people who oppose assisted suicide are not religious fanatics. Not Dead Yet Aotearoa was founded on disability rights not religious convictions. Assisted suicide supporters attempting to diminish the opposition by ignoring some and making sweeping statements about others is not helpful.

Part of our unease 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. The most notable, yet largely unknown T4 programme initiated by the Nazi Third Reich was the forerunner to the better known holocaust of Jews, gays, gypsies and others who did not meet the Aryan ideal. Around half a million people with of all kinds of impairments were killed. Some were tortured with “experimentation” before death. The first child to be euthanised was killed at the request of his parents. 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.

Even today those who murder their disabled family members, often vulnerable children, usually receive lesser sentences than other murderers. Their crimes may be labelled by the media and others as “mercy killings”.

Disabled people in the past were often discarded by society, “put away” in institutions popularly labelled “bins”, forgotten by society and history and eventually buried in unmarked graves. Today’s mini-institutions still harbour instances of violence and abuse, occasionally gaining media exposure. Disabled people, especially women, feel more vulnerable because they know they are more likely to experience violence and abuse and often feel powerless. Powerlessness and assisted suicide can be a dangerous combination.

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