Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Cause Fear Among Disabled

Things are confusing in the world today.

First, the culture, headed up by the media, tells us that we need to tolerate everyone.  Hate-speech is not allowed.  If someone is transgender or homosexual or a crossdresser, we are to tolerate and even embrace them because they were born that way.

Then, when we hear about disabled people, we hear how brave they are.  Or, how about a terminally ill person, he is brave, too.  This is, of course, true.  People with disabilities and terminal illnesses are indeed brave.  We are chided to use the accepted politically correct terminology when referring to people in this category.  We all cheer when someone with a disability is successful or overcomes obstacles.

So, it seems we are getting the same message, right?  People in the first group (transgenders, homosexuals, and crossdressers) are to be treated the same as those in the second group (those with disabilities or terminal illnesses).  All people, including people in these groups, deserve respect and courteous treatment from their fellow people.  So what’s my problem?  Where is the confusion?

The confusion comes when someone who is disabled or terminally ill announces that they want to die.  When that happens, the same culture and media who were calling them brave for living life to the fullest one minute, now are praising them for their decisions to end their life in their own time.  How can it they have it both ways?

Stephanie Woodward has a physical disability, and she wrote about her fears regarding euthanasia and assisted suicide this week for

I am well aware of the “ableist” notions that society holds – that having a disability is a tragedy, that we’re a waste of resources and a burden on society, and that we’re “brave” to live with our disabilities (which essentially means that most people would rather die than be “brave” andlive with a disability like me).

We’re often regarded as incapable of making our own decisions and unworthy of respect. However, when one disabled person announces they want to die, they’re lauded in the press and on social media. Sara Myers, for example, has Lou Gehrig’s disease and has received a slew of media attention for wanting assisted suicide because she began to experience disability.

With all of these negative stereotypes and stigmas against disabled people, combined with the praise a disabled person receives when they announce that they want to die, nothing scares me more than the legalization of assisted suicide.

Legalized assisted suicide has a disproportionate impact on disabled people. While everyone else receives suicide prevention, people with disabilities and certain illnesses and old people will receive a fast pass because our lives are viewed as less worthy.

Current legislation proposed in New York to legalize assisted suicide not only has no realistic way of protecting from mistake, coercion or abuse, but also lists no reporting requirements. This means that any doctor could prescribe a lethal dose and any person could administer that dose to kill a person, with medical confidentiality preventing any oversight. No independent witness is required during the death of an individual, so there’s no way to ensure that the individual administered the lethal dose himself or herself. In a world where abuse of people with disabilities and seniors is rampant, this alone is cause for concern.

For example, an adult child of an ill 80-year-old woman could accompany her mother to the doctor to obtain the lethal dose, and then administer it without her mother’s consent.

This is outrageous!  How can our society marginalize an entire segment of the population that not only has worth in and of themselves, but they also contribute to the world in ways that those of us who are not disabled will never understand.

More from Stephanie Woodward:

In recent years, plenty of medical professionals have deemed that assisted suicide is appropriate solely if a person is disabled. For example, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, most of Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s victims were not terminally ill, they simply had disabilities. Furthermore, the top reasons given for wanting assisted suicide are not pain or fear of future pain, but feeling like a “burden on others,” experiencing a “loss of autonomy,” or a “loss of dignity.” These factors are all disability related, as disabled people are often made to feel like burdens because we need assistance, which also contributes to the perceived loss of autonomy and dignity.

As states in the country consider legislation about euthanasia and assisted suicide, it is important for all of us to realize that all life is worthwhile and that just because someone is living with a disability, it does not mean that she should be marginalized and not urged to pursue life fully.  The truth is every life is precious and worthwhile.  Stand for life.