Not dead yet!

By April 8, 2014 Recent News

Geez Magazine 4 March 2014
What is it about assisted suicide that curdles my blood?
Could it be that it follows after 20th century sterilizations of people with disabilities in Europe and North America and the various versions of “good death” (mass killings) administered to hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities through the Nazi eugenics program? Or is it Canadian farmer Robert Latimer’s claim to have been acting compassionately when he killed his 12-year-old disabled daughter in 1993 that sticks in my memory?
At first sight, helping someone who because of disability cannot commit any legal deed, including suicide, seems generous and righteous. Yet, it is disability rights activists, many of whom are eligible for assisted suicide under current and proposed legislation, who most vehemently oppose its legalization.
Most people think the eligibility criteria for assisted suicide is terminal illness and constant pain that cannot be relieved, but these are very slippery and difficult concepts. The concept of pain as expanded under permissive assisted-suicide legislation in European countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands includes existential and emotional pain. Broad definitions of terminality and pain include disabilities that do not necessarily prevent people from living full lives.
Mortal life is a terminal illness. Our ability to predict the duration of anyone’s life is notoriously inaccurate. Many disabilities, but not all, result in shortened lifespans. Disabilities such as Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and multiple sclerosis, which are usually understood to be terminal, can be relatively stable for decades. For more than 60 years I have relied on wheelchairs to get around. In the past 30 years I have learned to live with ever greater and greater disabilities, sometimes called “post-polio syndrome.” I count myself blessed and very fortunate in my life, lived fully.