Sunday, February 8, 2015

Assisted suicide ruling warps the perception of people with disabilities

This article was published in the Ottawa Citizen on February 6, 2015. Taylor Hyatt was a spokesperson for the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition at the Supreme Court on February 6.

Taylor Hyatt
By Elizabeth Payne - Ottawa Citizen.
Link to the video interview with Taylor Hyatt.

Carleton University student Taylor Hyatt has long looked up to Manitoba MP Steven Fletcher.

“Young people with disabilities have fewer role models to show them that they can dream, they can aspire to many of the same things as people without disabilities,” she says.

But when student and role model met briefly last October at the Supreme Court of Canada, where arguments were being heard in advance of Friday’s landmark ruling on assisted suicide, they found themselves on either side of a sharp ideological divide. Fletcher, a quadriplegic, is among the highest-profile Canadian supporters of physician-assisted death; Hyatt, who has cerebral palsy and relies on a wheelchair, opposes it and finds Fletcher’s position “shocking.”

On Friday, a shaken Hyatt called the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling allowing doctor-assisted death both disappointing and worrisome, especially for its inclusion of “disability” among “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions that might be included in physician-assisted suicides. The court did not limit physician-assisted suicide to people whose condition is terminal, but instead referred to “a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual.”

Hyatt said she was expecting the ruling would be strictly for people with terminal conditions.
“Instead, people with disabilities were mentioned and this means that anyone who feels that they are suffering in their current condition could request help ending their life, and that includes me.”
Hyatt says she believes the ruling will change Canadian society. 
“This ruling warps the perception of people with disabilities. It paints it as very negative and hopeless and I would like to know why people are being invited to end their lives rather than being given resources they need to truly live and thrive.”
Rather than focusing on dying with dignity, she says society should “make sure that equal opportunities to thrive and live with dignity are the first option presented.”

Hyatt worries that legalizing doctor-assisted suicide will eventually result in pressure on those living with various disabilities. “People would be more susceptible to the idea that they should not live.”

And she fears Friday’s ruling is the beginning of a shift that will eventually result in fewer resources for people with disabilities and debilitating illnesses, as well as a degradation of the value of life of those with disabilities.
“I am 22 now, but I am afraid for how people will value the lives and the medical treatment of those with disabilities by the time I am, say, 62 and in need of what might be more medical help than an able-bodied person.”
Hyatt has had spastic diplegic cerebral palsy, which has impaired the mobility and stamina in her legs since she was born, three months prematurely. At home in Belleville, she said, she was able to get around using a walker. But she relies on a wheelchair and assistance at Carleton University, where she lives in residence. To be ready for a 9:30 a.m. interview this week, she had to get up at 5:30 a.m. – the only slot available at the last minute for the assistance she relies on.

Still, Hyatt says services and infrastructure for people with disabilities are very good at Carleton, which is why so many disabled students go there. In the outside world, it is a different story. The waiting list for suitable housing for her in Ottawa is five years.

Hyatt said the Supreme Court of Canada ruling reflects a double standard toward able-bodied and disabled Canadians.
“If you have an able-bodied person who is facing depression or an otherwise difficult time in their lives, there are all kinds of resources out there and people who are willing to help you, whereas if you are someone with a disability or health condition, people only see the tragedy. It is like you are standing at the end of a cliff and instead of reaching out your hand, they are pushing you down.”
She said she fears an erosion of resources for the disabled and that some will feel pressured to end their lives.

Hyatt has watched Fletcher closely since she was a teenager. She met him once at a conference at Carleton University. Last fall, when the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in the assisted suicide case, Hyatt was there and so was Fletcher. They talked for a few minutes: he complimented her on an interview she had done expressing her views on the issue. “He told me I was well spoken. I very much appreciate his courtesy to someone on the opposite side of the debate.”

Hyatt said she is amazed by what Fletcher has accomplished, “but I still find what he is advocating shocking.”


depressed said...

So could a person with untreatable depression qualify?

Alex Schadenberg said...

It all depends on how the federal government interprets the decision. The language of the decision is danger and irresponsible.

depressed said...

I don't know what to think anymore. All I know is I have suffered for 35 years, a failed suicide attempt left me afraid to try again so kept trying to rebuild my life and to heal because I had no other choice. Now it feels like it has been for nothing. I have lost almost all hope. This kind of law is pretty much saying suffering is a choice and how can I choose this? How could anyone?

Alex Schadenberg said...

Your battle to heal is important. Your life is important. Don't let the death lobby and their followers get you down.

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