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Disability rights advocates fight California assisted suicide bill

by | Jun 30, 2015

By Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director – Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

USA Today published a very interesting article written by Anna Gorman of Kaiser Health News concerning the role of disability rights activists in the assisted suicide debate in America.

Anthony Oriface

Anthony Oriface

For instance, Anthony Orefice from Valencia California had a motorcycle accident when he was 19.

Anthony Orefice hit a telephone pole on his motorcycle going 100 miles per hour. Doctors told his family he wouldn’t survive. He did, but the accident left him paralyzed from the chest down … “All you are thinking is the worst, worst, worst – everything you can’t do … I wanted to be dead.”

Orefice, who is now 40, is married, has a 7-year-old son, owns a medical supply company and counsels people who are newly disabled with spinal cord injuries. Orefice says

“Depression … is part of the healing process.”

Orefice is one of many disability rights activists who are speaking up against the California assisted suicide bill. He and others are concerned that

depression and incorrect prognoses may lead people with serious disabilities to end their lives prematurely.

Marilyn Golden

Marilyn Golden

Marilyn Golden, the senior policy analyst at Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, argues that the assisted suicide bill poses “considerable dangers” to people with new disabilities who may have suicidal thoughts. Golden states that

“It would almost be too easy to make an irrevocable choice,”

Golden added:

many people who initially received terminal diagnoses have “lived full lives (for) years or even decades” longer than expected.

John Kelly

John Kelly

John Kelly, with the disability rights group Not Dead Yet, explained

that the disability rights groups were less organized when Oregon and Washington State and Vermont passed assisted suicide bills, but since then they have effectively defeated bill in many states including Massachusetts, Colorado and Connecticut.

Gorman adds that Kelly said:

they are determined to defeat any bill, including the one in California.

The disability rights coalition is actively opposing the California assisted suicide bill SB 128. Deborah Doctor, a legislative advocate for Disability Rights California, wrote in a letter to State Sen. Lois Wolk late last month saying

disabled people are vulnerable to abuse and could be coerced by family members not acting in the patients’ best interests. Relatives, she said, could put pressure on people to take life-ending medication.

“Our responsibility is to think of people who are the most vulnerable to coercion, abuse and pressure.”

Doctor is also concerned that:

physicians may simply be wrong about how long someone has to live. Insurance companies also might overrule treatment for people with disabilities because of the cost of care.

Laurie Hoirup

Laurie Hoirup

Laurie Hoirup is another disability rights activist who strongly opposes assisted suicide, but based on her personal experience. Hoirup has had spinal muscular atrophy since she was a toddler. She has a curved spine and rods in her back, she cannot eat, bathe or go to the bathroom on her own and has trouble breathing.

According to Gorman, Hoirup said that:

Physicians told her family that she wouldn’t live past 10 years old.

“Anyone could be given the wrong diagnoses,” she said. “I am certainly the perfect example of that.”

Hoirup, who is now a grandmother, spent many years working in government and other positions on behalf of people with disabilities.

The article concludes

Orefice, who wished for death when he was 19, said he is now glad for what he calls the years of “bonus time.”

But Orefice said he doesn’t dwell on his disability or think much about death. Instead, he focuses on his family and thinks what he’s been able to accomplish and what he still hopes to. He paddle boards, plays wheelchair hockey and races specially equipped off-road vehicles.

“I have affected more lives than I would have if I was walking,” he said. “When you are in the trenches, you don’t see that.”

Categories: Assisted Suicide