A new study from the National Council on Disability (NCD) has slammed assisted suicide as being dangerous for people with disabilities. Noting that eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized assisted suicide, the NCD offered a harsh critique of assisted suicide and dispelled the myth that people seek it simply to avoid a painful death. Instead, they noted, “safeguards are ineffective and oversight of abuses and mistakes is absent.”
Like many other studies, the NCD’s study found that people are most often choosing assisted suicide because their needs are not being met, and they are not being properly supported. The NCD also pointed out that Oregon has been steadily expanding conditions which are eligible for assisted suicide over the past 20 years, now including “many disabilities that, when properly treated, do not result in death, including arthritis, diabetes, and kidney failure.” Patients are also not being properly protected across the country in a number of ways, including insurers denying coverage of life-saving treatment while approving assisted suicide drugs, emotional and financial pressure on vulnerable patients, and no methods of investigating and identifying abuse.
In a foreword to the study, NCD chairman Neil Romano noted that people with disabilities are culturally seen as deserving of so-called mercy killing. “Jack Kevorkian was convicted of second-degree murder for committing active euthanasia of a man with ALS, utilitarian euthanasia advocate Professor Peter Singer was hired for a prestigious bioethics chair at Princeton University, two movies favorably depicting euthanasia of people with quadriplegia won Oscars, and numerous courts upheld the right of a guardian to starve and dehydrate a severely brain injured but healthy woman in Florida,” he said of the last time the NCD examined the issue in 2005. “The dangers to people with disabilities based on the devaluation of their lives was ever clearer.” Now, he argues, things have not gotten any better.
“The report describes, among other things, a double standard in suicide prevention efforts where people with disabilities are not referred for mental health treatment when seeking assisted suicide, while people without disabilities receive such referrals,” Romano wrote. “The report recommends steps that must be taken at the federal and state levels to ensure that people with disabilities have a system of assisted services and supports; that medical providers inform patients seeking assisted suicide of these supports; and that medical providers receive training in disability competency and disability-risk factors for suicide.”
In addition to describing assisted suicide as dangerous, the report also slammed the notion of suicide being the more “dignified” way to die. “[M]ost assisted suicide laws reference ‘dignity,'” the report read. “The idea that hastened death is a pathway to dignity for people facing physical decline reveals the public’s extreme disparagement of functional limitations and a perception that ‘dignity’ is not possible for people who rely on supports, technology, or caregivers to be independent or alive.”
The Patients Rights Action Fund applauded the NCD for the study, and blasted the mainstream media for largely ignoring it. “Why wasn’t this on the front page of the New York Times? Or even on Page 13?” they asked.
“We applaud the National Council on Disability for their thorough research that documents how assisted suicide laws and practice are a direct assault on the dignity and lives of people with disabilities,” Patients Rights Action Fund executive director Matt Valliere said in a statement. “In both the practice and the public policy itself, assisted suicide is inherently discriminatory against people with disabilities, making the struggle to gain equal access to health care even more difficult, resulting in death for the devalued protected class.”
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