Not Dead Yet and Ten National and New York State Disability Groups File Friend of the Court Brief in New York Assisted Suicide Case

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Diane Coleman
Bruce Darling
Not Dead Yet and Ten National and New York State Disability Groups File Friend of the Court Brief in New York Assisted Suicide Case
On January 6, Not Dead Yet and ten other national and New York state disability rights organizations have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the New York Appellate Division in support of a lower court ruling dismissing a case seeking to legalize physician assisted suicide.

Joining in the Not Dead Yet brief are ADAPT, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Center for Disability Rights, the Disability Rights Center, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, the National Council on Independent Living, the New York Association on Independent Living, Regional Center for Independent Living and United Spinal Association, collectively referred to as the “Disability Rights Amici.” New York attorney Michael Gilberg handled the filing on behalf of the disability organizations.

The case is Myers v. Schneiderman (Index No.151162/15) and the disability brief supports the Supreme Court (County of New York) ruling which was issued October 16, 2015 and the New York State Attorney General seeking to uphold the ruling.

“Our basic position is that when some people get suicide prevention while other people get suicide assistance, and the difference is the person’s age, disability or health status, that’s a problem,” said Not Dead Yet’s president and CEO, Diane Coleman. “It’s a problem of devaluation of people who are being told that others not only agree with their suicide, which is bad enough, but will even help them carry it out. It’s a deadly form of discrimination and, as our brief says, it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Each of the Disability Rights Amici brings a specific perspective to the policy debate about assisted suicide. For example, the primary mission of ADAPT is to ensure that seniors and people with disabilities are not forced into nursing facilities, but have the choice to receive consumer directed long term care services in their own home. “If the only alternative to death that those in power offer people who require assistance is poverty and segregation in nursing facilities, then it makes no sense to talk about assisted suicide as a ‘choice’”, said Bruce Darling, an ADAPT organizer based in Rochester, New York.

Many people with disabilities acquire them as a result of accidents or trauma, and their prognosis is often uncertain in the early stages. “If assisted suicide had been legal in the past, even if it were supposedly only for those with ‘terminal’ conditions, many of us would not be here today,” said Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living. “I might not be here today, and I’m grateful that assisted suicide was not legal back then, and I’m committed to keeping it that way.”

The brief also expresses concerns about the context of health care cost-cutting in which assisted suicide is being advocated. “In an aging society where elder abuse is a growing problem, elders too often face economic or other pressures to get out of the way, whether those pressures come from the health care system or, sadly, from family,” Coleman said.

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