Thursday, September 3, 2009

Are the Disabled Ruining Death with Dignity for the Rest of Us?

Advocacy groups for the disabled in the US, like Not Dead Yet, have long allied themselves with anti-choice opponents to assisted dying, their premise being that the dignity or quality of life argument used by death with dignity advocates denigrates their lives.

From Dr. Kevorkian's assisted suicide of two disabled women in 1996, to the case of Terri Schiavo, classified as disabled by her family and religious groups, to the praise showered on Sarah Palin for choosing to give birth to a Down Syndrome baby, some disability rights advocates have long found death with dignity a threat.

Their position is that once it is decided an individual may legally determine when their life ends - and injest a doctor-prescribed lethal dose of drugs - authorities, have defined which lives are worth living. If the disabled feel in any way that society does not value them as they are, these groups say, they will be pushed further into the depression that often accompanies disability or even coerced to end their lives.

Now disabled organizations are firing back at Tony Delamothe, deputy editor of the British Medical Journal, for penning an article titled, "Assisted dying: what's disability got to do with it?" Delamothe writes:

The debate on assisted dying has been hijacked by disabled people who want to live. It needs to be reclaimed for terminally ill people who want to die

In the debate on the Falconer amendment in the House of Lords it was down to that wise old bird, Baroness Warnock, to dispel the sloppy thinking: "I think there is confusion if we run the disabled as a class of people, members of society, into another class of people, the terminally ill, although they may overlap. There are two different concepts, and we should not bring them together under the general heading of the vulnerable about whom we hear, in my experience, all too much." I hope Baroness Warnock lives for ever, although I know that she does not want to.

On first read, Delamothe's article is hard to stomach. His tone is crass and sarcastic. Yet in some ways his argument reminds us of the insecurities felt by the blind when corrective surgeries were being developed.

Writes Peter Singer in "Why We Must Ration Health Care," a discussion about how societies assign value to life, "If life with quadriplegia is as good as life without it, there is no health benefit to be gained by curing it."

Indeed, definitions play a hard role in this discourse. What qualifies as disabled? Down Syndrome? Persistent Vegetative State? Quadriplegia? What is terminal? Expected to die in 3 months? 3 years? And how does a government honor one's personal choice to die while protecting the rights of the vulnerable, the infirm?

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home