Disability advocates in recent times have raised concerns about the impact the legalisation of euthanasia and/or assisted suicide will have on them. There are people within the disability community actively campaigning against both.
Disability advocates breaking the silence on euthanasia,
left to right: Sam Connor, Glenda Lee, Jax Jacki Brown,
Kelly Cox, and Katharine Annear.
Last year, a group of five disability advocates campaigned against the failed euthanasia bill in South Australia – a group who described themselves as not being “anti-euthanasia activists … [but] are disabled women who have flown or travelled to protest the South Australian assisted-suicide bill from a disability and human rights perspective”.
They told SA parliamentarians that four of them would have been eligible to die under the proposed legislation.
Among the points they made, they noted that many people with disability were “far cheaper to kill than keep alive”. They told the story of a colleague who, although a productive employee who had quadriplegia, whose care was being paid for by the state (the same people that wanted to introduce euthanasia and assisted suicide to South Australia).
Another disability advocate, comedian Liz Carr from the UK, put a poser to them. She used the example of a person on a bridge, ready to jump. “Do you help them jump, or extend your hand to save them?” she asked. “Would you do a different thing if they were disabled? And if you would, should you not ask yourself why?”
The women also pointed out that “being given the right to die before being given the supports and right to live a good life is not really a choice”.
In regards to the right to live, disability advocate Jax Jacki Brown states: “They believe we first need the right supports to be able to live our lives fully and equally before the right to die. The argument is that, until society has the capacity to provide all the services which would enable people with disabilities to participate fully and equally in society, then a choice for assisted dying is never truly voluntary.”
Jacki Brown goes on further to explain how people with disability “warn of the dangers of legal assisted dying existing in a society which devalues the lives of disabled people and tells us that we are better off dead”.
Jess Kapuscinski-Evans, a young woman with a spinal cord injury, said: “We are not ‘burdens’ whose best option is to commit suicide.” She reminded us that people with disability needed the right supports and to “feel that our lives are worth living”.
Victorian disability advocate Stella Young told of her experience with medical professionals who told her she had had a “good innings” and that she was doing “very well” – at the age of 27. Journalist Quentin Kenihan highlighted what the implications might be if Stella required resuscitation.
This is worrying. If euthanasia or assisted-suicide laws were to be established, how would doctors treat people with disability and would they seek to influence the decision of whether a patient should live or be groomed into the option of being made dead.
This leads me to wonder about the following questions if euthanasia or assisted suicide were to be legalised. Despite the voluntary nature of the proposed laws for Victoria, would people with disability be coerced into ending their lives through euthanasia or assisted suicide due to a society that devalues many of us? Would doctors sweet-talk people with disability into thinking they’ve had a hard life and they may as well end it?
Despite claims that the proposed laws will require that one must not be experiencing mental-health problems to be eligible to access euthanasia or assisted suicide, I fear that people with disability along with the wider community will choose euthanasia or assisted suicide due to, in many cases, their poorer quality of life, and that feelings of depression will influence the decision to end one’s life.
We need to focus on improving the quality of life for all people, including people with disability, instead of taking about actively ending their lives.
If this article brings up any issues for you, support and information about suicide prevention is available by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.