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Being disabled does not mean death is better than life: Oppose assisted suicide.

by | Jan 31, 2022

Editor’s note. This article was written by Terri Hancharick as a Special to the USA TODAY Network and published on January 28, 2022. Reposted at Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

By Terri Hancharick, the chairperson for the Delaware State Council for Persons with Disabilities

The disability community has thoroughly studied and vetted the effects of assisted suicide. It is a dangerous practice that is impossible to regulate and unfairly targets people with disabilities.

My 34-year-old daughter, Brigitte and I, have testified at the Delaware legislative hearings each year on this subject. Brigitte has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, profound cognitive disabilities, epilepsy, chronic pain, and multiple other medical disabilities. I have been a disability rights activist for 34 years. This experience along with many studies and the evidence from states that have already passed such laws has led me to vehemently oppose assisted suicide. I urge the Delaware legislature to also oppose this deadly bill — HB 140.

The National Council on Disability published a report on Oct. 9, 2019, about the dangers of assisted suicide laws for people with disabilities. The Council clearly opposes assisted suicide as demonstrated in this extensive report, citing ineffective “safeguards” that fail to protect patients. There are many national disability rights groups that oppose assisted suicide including but not limited to ADAPT, American Association of People with Disabilities, Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, National Council on Independent Living, TASH and ARC of the United States.

In another example of how assisted suicide laws are deficient in providing protections for patients, comes from a recent study regarding the state of Washington’s assisted suicide law. In his study the author found the state severely deficient in its enforcement of the legal requirements of the law. This has resulted in an inadequate understanding whether the law was in fact providing the safeguards guaranteed by the law. It begs the question, why is the state of Washington not enforcing the law? What are they hiding?

Delaware’s assisted suicide bill is based on legislation in Oregon, where assisted suicide was first legalized. Data from Oregon provides insight into the top reasons that patients ask for assisted suicide. The top five reasons which people gave were:

  • the loss of autonomy 
  • being unable to participate in activities that make life enjoyable 
  • loss of dignity 
  • loss of bodily functions, 
  • becoming a burden on family, friends, and caregivers,

These reasons are all disability related. Pain, contrary to popular belief, does not even make it into the top reasons which people give to justify their application for assisted suicide.

These disability-related concerns are similar to the concerns that my daughter and other Delawareans with disabilities face daily. Able-bodied people have a hard time accepting the prospect of becoming a person with a disability, which often requires you to develop dependencies on others. They are shocked by the loss of “dignity” that this dependency brings, and they believe premature death is preferable to such a fate. They decide to end their life because they fear circumstances which they may experience. These disability-related concerns are serious and deserve appropriate multi-disciplinary care–but they are not worth seeking death as an alternative. Legalized assisted suicide devalues the life of my daughter and her peers, and it simply sends the wrong message to the disability community: they are better off dead than disabled.

As written in the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 

“When people are offered the option of suicide but not the option of affordable home care, they do not have any meaningful choice. People with significant disabilities due to illness should not have to die to have dignity.”

Because there are no safeguards against social and medical bigotry towards people with significant disabilities, assisted suicide is simply too dangerous–even with so-called “safeguards” in place.

Instead of institutionalizing death for the disability community, the Delaware legislature should focus on ensuring that everyone has the care and resources that they need. We must continue to advocate for reliable and competent care in the community. We must continue to advocate for full inclusion of people with disabilities. We must continue to lobby our elected officials for allocating the money needed to help provide for and empower people with disabilities.

Every day, the disability community fights to be seen and to be heard. Instead of enabling a pervasive ableist mentality by legalizing assisted suicide, let us work toward a society where everyone has the opportunity to live a dignified life. Please vote no to legalizing assisted suicide. The disability community deserves better.

Categories: Assisted Suicide