Anita Cameron: The Disability Perspective

A few weeks ago, I went to Albany, the New York state capital, to meet with members of the Senate Minority Caucus to urge them not to support any forthcoming assisted suicide legislation.

During the meetings, each legislator and/or staffer was asked had he or she heard stances against assisted suicide from the perspective of disabled people. With one exception, no one said they had heard why many in our community are against it.

As I spoke with other folks with disabilities around the country, the same theme arose — they were speaking out against assisted suicide and they weren’t really being heard.

It is an uphill battle because those of us directly affected by such legislation are either being dismissed by Compassion and Choices or our voices are being drowned out by other powerful groups whose reasons for opposition to assisted suicide differ from ours.

I find it disturbing, to say the least, that the disability perspective has not been sought out, since our community will suffer the effects, unintended or not, of assisted suicide laws. This doesn’t come as any surprise when our lives are devalued by doctors and society in general. Why bother with the ramifications for us when, to most, being disabled is considered a fate worse than death?

So, what does the disability community think about assisted suicide? While our community isn’t monolithic, the vast majority of us, including all of the major disability organizations that have taken a position, feel that the legalization of assisted suicide is dangerous. It is inherently discriminatory, it opens the way for insurance companies to choose assisted suicide as an option because it is cheaper than paying for life-saving drugs and treatments, it allows doctors to be gatekeepers to decide whose lives are worthy, and makes it possible for unscrupulous and abusive family members and heirs to coerce their relative into choosing assisted suicide even if it isn’t what they want.

Proponents of assisted suicide such as Compassion and Choices pooh-pooh the disability perspective, saying that our community won’t be affected because this is for people with six months or less to live, who are in excruciating pain. The fact is, doctors can, and do, make mistakes about how long someone has to live. Also, while they and others talk about pain as the main reason that people want assisted suicide, the truth is that people seeking the suicide drugs in Oregon cited loss of autonomy, feelings of being a burden, loss of the ability to engage in activities, loss of the ability to control bodily functions and loss of dignity as the top reasons for wanting to die. All of these are issues that many of us disabled face every day and live meaningful lives despite this.

In this desperate fight against assisted suicide, it is vitally important that people, especially lawmakers, speak with disability organizations such as Not Dead Yet, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), ADAPT, National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) and Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) before supporting, sponsoring or co-sponsoring assisted suicide legislation. While other opponents may have moral or philosophical reasons for opposing this deadly trend, disabled people live with the cold, hard reality of what has happened, and what can happen, to us. We can give you actual facts of how our lives are affected, rather than philosophical musings or moral admonitions.

Reach out to us for our perspective and don’t dismiss us when we tell you the real truth about what assisted suicide legislation will do to disabled people. Listen to us because this is literally a matter of life and death!

3 thoughts on “Anita Cameron: The Disability Perspective

  1. Yes, it is a matter of life and death, but the culture of death and the culture of money flourish today in our culture. This is not the same culture or legal climate that gave us the Americans with Disabilities Act in the 1990, and the 1991 PSDA and federal law wherein federal public funds, Medicare/Medicaid/VA for passive euthanasia and
    mercy killing, etc. were outlawed. We are now a secular society ruled by a secular court who treats unilateral DNR’s and the unilateral hastening of death or shortening of life in hospitals as merely an “ethics violation” that can be heard by the Ethics Committee in the hospital. (Read the excellent articles of Thaddeus Pope, the foremost expert and historian on medical futility and the law, concerning the treatment of involuntary euthanasia by the United States Courts in a Google Search)

    Compassion and Choices is a product of the culture of death and its partner, the culture of money, and is well funded and can buy Press Coverage, etc. to influence the public to influence the legislatures.

    It is ugly reality that many of the citizens could care less about the shortening of the lives of the disabled and elderly to save money and really are only concerned about their ability to control their own deaths that are far in the future.

    Unless the organizations who represent the disabled work together to fight back and disclose the long-standing illegal and legal targeting of the elderly and the disabled to save money in so called end-of-life care by unilaterally withholding expensive ICU and life-extending care with unilateral covert and overt DNR code status in the hospital charts –which are keeping these vulnerable populations out of expensive hospital ICU and CCU units to save money for the private interests — who have invaded public insurance to make record profits on the stock markets, etc., you will have no power.

    The legislatures are not going to reach out to you. It is all about the money for both of the political parties. The disabled lobby doesn’t have the $$$ to buy legislation that is fair and favorable to the disabled and Medicare/Medicaid patients have no idea that their fee- for- service contract with government has been changed to a Health Maintenance Organization with managed care and managed death reimbursement guidelines.

  2. The strength of a coalition is when groups with parallel perspective work in parallel. I understand that there are differences in approach between disability groups and “right to life” groups but neither group should trivialize or pan the approach of the other in an effective coalition. Liberal legislators may indeed find a disability perspective more persuasive. In contrast, a given conservative legislator may be very influenced by the right-to-life perspective.

    Because one faction may work primarily with liberal legislators is not a reason to downgrade or trivialize the perspective based on medical ethics. I find this quote to be patronizing and dismissive “We can give you actual facts of how our lives are affected, rather than philosophical musings or moral admonitions.” Medical ethics are not “philosophical musings”. How would NDY like it if there perspective was referred to as “identity politics”. Let’s have respect among diverse groups opposed to assisted suicide.

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