Wednesday, September 13, 2017

“World Suicide Prevention Day” Omits Disabled Population

September 11, 2017
Taylor Hyatt – Policy Analyst & Outreach Coordinator, 
Toujours Vivant-Not Dead Yet

September 10th, was World Suicide Prevention Day. The decision to end one’s own life should always be met with sorrow and grief; every effort should be made to prevent human beings from reaching that level of despair. However, our society seems to make an exception for old, ill and disabled people.

Disabled people encounter a variety of obstacles to living secure, fulfilling and independent lives compared to the general population. There is a shortage of affordable and accessible housing, as well as home-based assistance services. Many people end up being forced into institutions as a result. These environments severely restrict residents’ personal freedoms, while unsanitary conditions and unhealthy practices may rise to the level of inhumane treatment. People with disabilities are also more likely to be unemployed or live in poverty. Income supports often do not cover basic living expenses. Moreover, correcting any of these problems is commonly thought to be a burden. It’s no wonder that some wrongly believe it is better to die than be disabled.

When suicidal tendencies become obvious, self-destruction is assumed to be a reasonable choice because a disability is present. Should the person seek help, medical professionals overlook typical sources of stress. Instead of investigating the underlying problems – strained relationships or social isolation – the person’s behaviour is assumed to be motivated by the disability, and therefore rational. For people with mental health issues, the wish to die may even be a symptom of their condition. In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) released a position paper this week stating that assisted suicide solely for psychiatric disabilities “should remain illegal” for this reason. People with all kinds of disabilities are therefore at greater risk of suicide. This situation cannot be overlooked.

To make matters worse, the Canadian government legalized “medical aid in dying” or “assisted death” last year. The procedure should be called by its true name: assisted suicide and euthanasia. A false distinction between two “types” of suicide has been created. Current suicide prevention efforts disregard the legally-sanctioned form in an effort to avoid limiting personal choice. This approach makes no sense. Whether or not you are disabled, and whether or not you engage medical professionals to participate in your death, suicide is suicide.

Suicide prevention should apply equally to everyone – including and especially people with disabilities. Until that happens, we will be denied our rights to self-determination and full participation in society. / / 450-921-3057

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