Friday, August 29, 2014

Disability Rights Organizations Oppose Assisted Suicide

This article was originally published on the Not Dead Yet blog on August 28, 2014

By John B. Kelly - the New England regional director for Not Dead Yet and the director of Second Thoughts Massachusetts.

John Kelly in Connecticut
Disability rights advocates and organizations have long opposed legalization of assisted suicide. In the mid 1990s, Not Dead Yet organized to oppose Jack Kevorkian’s assisted suicides, two thirds of which ended the lives of non-terminal, disabled people. Over the last 20 years, every major national disability rights organization that has taken a position on assisted suicide, firmly opposes it. In recent state level campaigns, disability rights opposition has been a key factor in stopping assisted suicide bills.

The authors (Myers and Hankinson, “People living with disabilities support death with dignity”) base their argument on results from three state polls and quotes from scientist Stephen Hawking. Let’s look at the three states. In Massachusetts, disabled advocates formed the group Second Thoughts during the 2012 assisted suicide ballot campaign. We took the name from our finding that the more people learn about assisted suicide, the more they oppose it. We gathered support from 11 major state-wide disability organizations; no disability organizations came out in favor. And in the most recent legislative session, Second Thoughts joined with the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Hospice & Palliative Care Federation to quash a similar bill.

When Connecticut proponents put forward bills in two consecutive sessions, our sister group Second Thoughts Connecticut organized with the disability protection and advocacy agency and the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disability to stop the bills. Hugh McQuaid wrote in CT News Junkie that “Both this year and last year, people with disabilities and their advocates have been among the bill’s most outspoken opponents. Many testified against the bill during its public hearing.”

Lastly, the authors cited New Jersey, where disability opposition was just credited with stalling an assisted suicide bill. Susan Livio of NJ.com wrote “Disability advocates, fearing the legislation could be manipulated to prematurely end patients’ lives, turned out in force to testify against the bill when it passed the Assembly Health and Senior Citizens Committee earlier this month.”

In reality, assisted suicide is the ultimate denial of choice. Bob Kafka, national leader of ADAPT, points to the enforced poverty, lack of available home care, and terror of nursing homes confronting seniors and disabled people who need assistance. The lack of choices is reflected in the statistics from Oregon, where 90% of suicides are ascribed to “loss of autonomy,” and 40% to “feelings of being a burden.” Kafka says, “Society is failing to ensure that seniors and people with disabilities have access to consumer controlled long term services and supports when they need them. The last thing we need is for those in power to make a public policy choice, during this time of vast budget cuts in Medicaid health and long term care, that an early death is the cost saving answer to these very real human needs.”

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