Second Thoughts - Disability Rights Advocates Against Assisted Suicide

Blog > Replying to the supporters

Submitted by Amy Hasbrouck.

Many supporters of assisted suicide say that failing to pass an assisted suicide law would put “the government” in the position of choosing whether people can die or not. This is not correct. Suicide is not illegal and anyone can make an advanced directive or appoint a health care proxy with instructions as to when, and under what circumstances s/he wants to have life-sustaining medical treatment — even food and water — withdrawn. And as Tony Nicklinson showed last week, anyone can kill himself by refusing to eat or drink, while being sedated to ease the process during the 4-7 days it will take to die.

Though suicide is not illegal, our society has a public policy against suicide. Yet assisted suicide laws would create a discriminatory policy of effectively making suicide prevention available only to some people. For example, when non-disabled people say they want to kill themselves, they will be offered suicide prevention services, social and psychological help and medications to treat the condition that makes them to want to kill themselves. They may even be hospitalized against their will to prevent a suicide attempt. Yet when ill or disabled people express suicidal feelings, society not only sees this as a rational response to disability, assisted suicide laws take it a step further; while most suicide attempts in the general population fail, assisted suicide will practically guarantee that the suicide attempts of people with disabilities or terminal illness will succeed. This is a reflection of society’s placing a lower value on the lives of people with disabilities, or the “better dead than disabled’ point of view that those of us with disabilities encounter every day.

The “terminal illness” / six-months-to-live diagnosis is often wrong, or simply ignored. In each year that the Oregon assisted suicide law has been on the books, people have outlived the six-month prognosis.

It’s impossible to know how many people have outlived their diagnoses in Oregon and Washington, or to get complete information about the effects of the assisted suicide laws, because the state reports are drawn from intentionally misleading and incomplete data, which is destroyed as soon as the report is produced (thus making any long-term study impossible). For example, assisted suicides are not counted as suicides, but as deaths caused by the underlying condition. Also, doctors who prescribe the lethal drugs are not required to report it, and there is no oversight to ensure that their reports are accurate or complete.

Not only do the data provide insufficient information, there are no provisions in the laws to investigate potential abuses by doctors, insurers, institutions or family members. And with an elder abuse rate in Massachusetts of nearly 1 in 10, where financial exploitation tops the list of offences, do we want to risk passing a law with such meager safeguards that really serves no purpose but to discriminate against ill and disabled people?

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