Thursday, March 12, 2015

Assisted suicide is just wrong.

This article was published in the Huffington Post on March 11, 2015.

By Simon Stevens, is an independent disability issues consultant.

You can call it assisted dying, assisted suicide, mercy killings, helping people along or anything else you want, but whatever you call it, I would say it is just wrong. The debates and pressure to legalise assisting dying has focused on the right to choose how we die, but this is in reality a right afforded to no one as we live in a world where no one knows when they we are going to die.

You may argue that people who commit suicide know when they are going to but few people actually plan to commit suicide as a rational act to take control of their destiny and it is not a form of action that has gained any acceptance within society. I am sure daytime TV will never be offering advice on how to have a good suicide! Instead, suicide and suicidal thoughts come as a possible immediate solution to a period of immense depression or frustration. It is an irrational desire that comes from people not seeing other ways forward.

When a supposedly well or non-disabled person commits suicide, there is shock and horror as people examine the environmental causes that may have led them to suicide, generally concluding the real reasons may probably always be a mystery. If a non-disabled or well person expresses a desire to commit suicide, those they tell are most likely to do everything they have to talk them out of their desire by asking them to think of the positive things in their life.

When a sick or disabled person commits suicide, the rules change. There is an unspoken assumption they had a valid reason to do so with people remarking they are probably better off now. More worrying is families, coroners and the media seem eager to make clear conclusions, particularly that 'stress' caused by their interaction with DWP is a key reason for their suicide, when there could in reality be a whole range of factors. I find this politicisation of what is a tragic event quite sickening and deeply worrying, as it shows deep rooted prejudices toward sick and disabled people.

And when sick and disabled people show a desire to wish to commit suicide, assisted or unassisted, suddenly what is normally perceived as an irrational non-starter caused by depression is reframed as a brave and courage rational decision that is obviously correct given their circumstances. The person's environment, that may be the reason for their despair, is totally ignored as the focus becomes how they supposedly feel about their impairment or illness.

While I can totally understand how people can feel and their desire is clearly genuine, my concern is how those around them, as well as the media and society at large, respond differently to their desire because they are sick or disabled. There is deep rooted prejudices towards sick and disabled people that are not yet openly discussed and are allowed to be celebrated to a degree.
I strongly believe the same deep rooted prejudices that are used to justify assisted suicide are the same prejudices that are in place when the media and other complain about disabled people who are found fit for work in a manner they regard as unfair, and recently the pity for disabled people who are sanctioned in a manner they perceive as unfairly. I am further argue that many sick and disabled people can share these prejudices and they are not exempt just because of their status.

Because these prejudices are framed as compassion, fairness, justice and so on, they are extremely difficult to currently challenge, leaving those of us who see it clearly as being regarded as heretics, criticised for not being compassionate enough! But the inclusion of disabled people is never going to move forward towards something more meaningful until we expose and truly challenge the deep rooted prejudices that exists within most current social policy around sick and disabled people.

Assisted suicide and how it is being framed as an act of compassion is perhaps the crossroads to society deciding what it really thinks about sick and disabled people. If assisted suicide becomes law, it could be the start of a slow and steady 'compassionate' path to a new kind of holocaust for sick and disabled people that we will not realise is happening until it is far too late.

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