Thursday, December 14, 2017

Disabled lives are worth living. Euthanasia implies otherwise.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

The New Zealand government is now officially debating a bill to legalize euthanasia. Today Stuff News published an excellent article by Claire Freeman, who writes from the disability perpective.

Claire Freeman
Freeman opposes euthanasia based on her personal experience. Freeman notes that the bill is not limited to people who are terminally ill. Freeman wrote:

However, the bill contains another clause which states that anyone with a grievous and irremediable medical condition will also qualify for euthanasia.  This is a very important aspect but seems to be often omitted. 
This "grievous and irremediable" definition covers many people, especially those with severe disabilities, and this is where my concern lies.
Freeman wrote about a time in her life when she was suicidal.
As someone who has attempted suicide more than once, I know at first-hand how it feels like to be in a state where death seems a legitimate and desired option. 
I blamed my condition - tetraplegia - for my poor mental health at the time, but in hindsight it was my misguided coping mechanisms that were the problem, along with a very stressful and unsupported lifestyle and work environment. 
I was driven to explore the option of euthanasia in other countries but the cost was prohibitive. Had that option been available in New Zealand, I would very likely have qualified because of the severity of my injury. 
At that time, I perceived that my life was not worth living, but that perception changed.
Freeman then tells us how her life has changed.
Since changing my lifestyle completely and getting the support and sleep I so desperately needed, I am now in a really good space and have been for the past two years. I am studying towards a PhD, and through social media I believe I am making a positive difference in the lives of others facing similar problems. 
My life has new meaning and purpose and I have never felt happier. Realising my spinal injury or tetraplegia were not the cause of my mental health problems was a groundbreaking moment for me and I am so thankful that euthanasia or assisted suicide was not an option available to me in New Zealand. 
I think most of us underestimate what kind of hardships we can cope with but we are adaptable and find strength to battle on - even with a serious injury like paralysis. 
The silver lining to my injury is that it has made me more compassionate, humble, creative and adaptable. It has also made me more fearless. I have travelled to Europe, Japan, Canada, China and the United States, and if something does go wrong I know it’s OK, because I’m alive, I’m experiencing life and seeing it through new eyes.
Freeman ends her article by restating why legalizing euthanasia implies that her life is not worth living.
In one sense, I’ve been given a second chance at life. 
While it is commendable that we are discussing euthanasia, we need to be extremely careful not to make assumptions about the quality of life of others like myself – people with grievous and irremediable medical conditions. 
When the majority of health professionals believe that lives like mine are not worth living, we have a problem. 
From my own personal experience, during my darkest moments, I was encouraged to seek overseas euthanasia options from medical professionals so it comes as no surprise this clause has been included in the bill. 
What message does this bill send to those with disabilities if we decide it is acceptable to end one's life without any real understanding of those lives? Because I believe my life is of value.


Nancy said...

Thank you very much for your profound thoughts! And, you may be interested in The Healing Rooms. Check online. Merry Christ.mas!

Margot Cole said...

Powerful story! Thank you so much for sharing! As a disabled person I strongly feel we need to hear more from the disabled community on this topic. I have Cerebral Palsy and was so angry at the notion of disabled lives not being worth living that I wrote a film called "A Stroke Of Endurance" about disabled people who want to live, not to die, and embrace life head on with vibrancy.

Link to watch the film in full for free is here

You can also find the film by typing the title into youtube.

Ermar said...

A very inspiring article.
I have had severe anxiety and depression some years ago when I was young. At one time I was suicidal. A dear friend helped me through this time and I have been OK ever since. It did take some work to overcome the problems but it has certainly been worth it.
I wonder if some of the people who opted for Euthanasia would regret the decision if they could come back again and rethink it.
I have a severely disabled niece and she brings great joy to the family even though for her parents life has been tough. I have also taught disabled college age students and those years were the most fulfilling of my teaching career. Definitely disabled lives are worth living: not only for the disabled person but for their families and the wider community. What they contribute is often very subtle but real.

Máire Ní Bhroin said...

Thank you for your powerful testimony & brave witness of your heroic battle with depression describing your resulting spiritual recovery to acceptance of life as a disabled person in discovering the many ways in which your life is valuable with much to share with others. I know this article will definitely help others & more importantly make a lot of disabled people opt out of choosing Euthanasia as an answer. Thank-you, God bless & kudos to you!

Arthur Davis said...

I always find it funny when "disability-rights" advocates seem to want to deprive others of personal choice. For every story such as this, I can bring up 10 of people with severe debilitating unamenable suffering who want an end to their misery as soon as possible. My father suffered from a stroke which nearly left him completely paralyzed and he longed for the day to die until he finally did.

Nobody is forcing you to choose euthanasia, if you want to live then live, if you change your mind there is an ample amount of time through the waiting period to do so.

However don't you ever try to deprive me of the choice to do so in the first place. It's my body, my life.

Alex Schadenberg said...

Clearly you didn't read the article. She would have asked for euthanasia if it had been available, but now she is happy that it wasn't available. Her point is that euthanasia threatens the lives of vulnerable people.

As for your pain comments, certainly some people ask for euthanasia based on pain, but the data shows that in fact very few people ask their doctors to kill them based on pain.

Arthur Davis said...

No, the reasoning is absolutely flawed. She is not comfortable with euthanasia, therefore she would deprive others of the choice to do so? This is not justified at all. She got better, many others do not and only dream of traveling like she was able to. To deprive people of personal autonomy and the decision to control their own fate because of personal uneasiness is wrong. For every case where the person was glad that they did not choose euthanasia, I can bring up ten that suffered until they died wishing for the option. Who should win? Autonomy should.

"Vulnerability" is also a useless concept. If I am mentally competent to consent to euthanasia, I am mentally competent. Period. I am not vulnerable and to label me with such a concept despite that is utter tyranny Mr. Schadenberg. I am reminded of that famous C.S Lewis quote.

Furthermore I don't ever recall mentioning pain. My father wasn't in pain. He was absolutely suffering because the quality of life he had to endure was horrendous. He could no longer do anything he used to love. Neither riding a motorcycle, traveling, sailing, fishing, or hunting. Instead he was confined to his room with a 24/7 caretaker.

It had primarily to do with the quality of life. I and many others believe that death is not the worst of fates (you would probably disagree.) When the quality of life is so poor,life is akin to a meaningless existence. I do not see such nobility in being forced to endure such a life. Again, you might disagree. However please do not force such values on me and seek to deprive me of personal autonomy and what to do with my own life.

Thank you.

Anthony Wilkins said...

So essentially your argument is that because this woman is not comfortable with the choice of assisted-dying and would have chosen it (I honestly doubt she wouldn't have changed her mind during the waiting period) this means everybody else should be deprived of personal autonomy and the option? I vehemently disagree.

Your side can cite stories such as this and ours can cite even more with regards to people suffering from a debilitating untreatable condition begging for the option of euthanasia. To label all disabled people as vulnerable is stigmatizing and just plain scientifically wrong. Mentally competent disabled people are not vulnerable and perfectly apt to decide on personal medical choices such as euthanasia.