On March 24, 1997, the National Council on Disability issued a position paper entitled “Assisted Suicide: A Disability Perspective.” (http://www.ncd.gov/publications/1997/03241997) This was shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide but suggested that individual states might experiment with statutes related to it.
At this crucial juncture, NCD showed great leadership by stating:
Current evidence indicates clearly that the interests of the few people who would benefit from legalizing physician-assisted suicide are heavily outweighed by the probability that any law, procedures, and standards that can be imposed to regulate physician-assisted suicide will be misapplied to unnecessarily end the lives of people with disabilities . . . . At least until such time as our society provides a comprehensive, fully-funded, and operational system of assistive living services for people with disabilities, this is the only position that the National Council on Disability can, in good conscience, support.
The issue became one of national significance again in 2005-2006, when the U.S. Department of Justice challenged the Oregon assisted suicide law under drug licensing statutes. In June 2005, while that case was pending, NCD reissued the position paper: http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2005/06092005
We now face another critical development in the public policy debate over assisted suicide. Late last year, a young woman named Brittany Maynard announced her intent to die by assisted suicide after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. The public relations machinery of assisted suicide advocacy organizations developed a video that went viral. These groups have announced plans to have assisted suicide legislation introduced in nearly half of state legislatures in 2015. Some are already on the table, but many more are threatened.
Not Dead Yet requests that NCD again demonstrate leadership on this subject by reissuing the 1997 position paper at this critical time. As many Council members are no doubt aware, all major national disability organizations that have taken a position on this issue oppose legalization of assisted suicide. (http://notdeadyet.org/disability-groups-opposed-to-assisted-suicide-laws) I would especially like to direct your attention to a very helpful legislative briefing booklet issued by the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund entitled “A Progressive Case Against An Assisted Suicide Law,” which is attached.
Increasingly, disability rights advocates are being recognized for effective leadership in opposing assisted suicide bills, by proponents and opponents alike. Now is a perfect time for NCD to again step forward on this issue. We pledge our support toward such an effort and offer any assistance that the Council would find helpful.
Submitted for NCD meeting held on January 12, 2015.