Being Disabled Doesn’t Mean Death Is Better Than Life: Opposing Assisted Death
The disability community has carefully studied and verified the effects of assisted suicide. It is a dangerous practice that cannot be regulated and unfairly targets people with disabilities.
My 34-year-old daughter, Brigitte, and I have testified every year at legislative hearings in Delaware on this subject. Brigitte suffers from quadriplegic cerebral palsy, profound cognitive disorders, epilepsy, chronic pain and several other medical conditions. I have been a disability rights activist for 34 years. This experience along with numerous studies and evidence from states that have already passed such laws has led me to vehemently oppose assisted suicide. I urge the Delaware Legislature to also oppose this murderous bill – HB 140.
The National Disability Council released a report on October 9, 2019 on the dangers of assisted suicide laws for people with disabilities. The Council clearly opposes assisted suicide, as this detailed report demonstrates, citing ineffective “safeguards” that fail to protect patients. There are many national disability rights groups that oppose assisted suicide, including but not limited to ADAPT, American Association of People with Disabilities, Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, National Council on Independent Living, TASH and ARC of the United. states.
In another example of how assisted suicide laws are insufficient to provide patient protections, comes a recent study regarding Washington State’s assisted suicide law. In his study, the author found that the state was seriously deficient in its enforcement of the legal requirements of the law. This resulted in a misunderstanding of whether the law in fact offered the safeguards guaranteed by law. This begs the question: Why isn’t Washington state enforcing the law? What are they hiding?
Delaware’s assisted suicide bill is based on legislation in Oregon, where assisted suicide was first legalized. Data from Oregon provides insight into the top reasons patients request assisted suicide. The top five reasons given by people were:
loss of autonomy
being unable to participate in activities that make life enjoyable
loss of dignity
loss of bodily functions,
become a burden on family, friends and caregivers
These reasons are all related to disability. Pain, contrary to popular belief, is not even among the top reasons people give for seeking assisted suicide.
These disability-related concerns are similar to the concerns that my daughter and other disabled Delawarens face on a daily basis. Able-bodied people find it difficult to accept the prospect of becoming a disabled person, which often requires developing dependencies on others. They are shocked by the loss of “dignity” that this addiction entails, and they believe that an early death is preferable to such a fate. They decide to end their lives because they fear the circumstances they might experience. These disability concerns are serious and deserve appropriate multidisciplinary care, but they are not worth seeking death as an alternative. Legalizing assisted suicide devalues the life of my daughter and her peers, and just sends the wrong message to the disability community: it’s better they are dead than disabled.
As the Autistic Self Advocacy Network writes, “When people are offered the option of suicide but not the option of affordable home care, they have no meaningful choice. People with significant disabilities due to illness should not have to die to have dignity.
Because there are no safeguards against social and medical zealotry toward people with significant disabilities, assisted suicide is simply too dangerous, even with so-called “safeguards” in place.
Instead of institutionalizing death for the disabled community, the Delaware legislature should ensure that everyone receives the care and resources they need. We must continue to advocate for reliable and competent care in the community. We must continue to advocate for the full inclusion of people with disabilities. We must continue to pressure our elected officials to allocate the money needed to help provide for and empower people with disabilities.
Every day, the disability community fights to be seen and heard. Instead of fostering a pervasive ability mentality by legalizing assisted suicide, let’s work towards a society where everyone has the opportunity to live a dignified life. Please vote no to legalizing assisted suicide. The disability community deserves better.
Terri Hancharick is president of the Delaware State Council for Persons with Disabilities.
This article originally appeared in the Delaware News Journal: Delaware Aid in Dying: Disability Community Concerns