Richard Stith considers how the “Right to Die” brings about a cruel paradox of making life harder. This is because if a person who develops any given disability (be it through accident, illness or inevitable ageing) yet continues striving to live their life and not choosing assisted suicide / euthanasia, then sympathy for their situation decreases as their need for care increases.
In the Netherlands giving lethal injections to severely disabled babies or starving them is no longer headline news, as newborn euthanasia is clearly allowed under the 2004 Groningen Protocol. The stunning novelty of this article is that it says that the parents’ suffering may be a reason to end their newborn’s life.
Euthanasia or assisted suicide, even if officially ‘voluntary’, cause the disabled to fear for their future. Dr John Fox writes, “vague, or even specific, safeguards, are inadequate to the task of protecting us in a society increasingly tempted to do the easy thing. It’s easy to say “if you don’t believe in the choice, don’t make it”. Dr Fox continues that this ignores the effect that creating such a category of choice (to suicide) already has on society, and on how it devalues the lives of those with disability.
Abelism is a prejudice for the able-bodied and against the disabled. Carol Cleigh Sutton says euthanasia and assisted suicide send a message to the disabled that sometimes “an individual may be better off dead than disabled.”
Legislatures should reject legalised euthanasia as an inappropriate route to relief of suffering. But they should also ask questions about their own health care policies and practices as potential contributors to requests for euthanasia. How to treat every life as valuable and deliver excellent care? How to strengthen palliative care?
The International Disability and Human Rights Network believes that, on balance, euthanasia legislation is a very risky move with grave implications for people with disabilities.
Ben Mattlin, a 55 year old with spinal muscular atrophy, says “To me, just having the state condone the option of unburdening others is tantamount to more than a green light. To the most vulnerable, it’s a kick in the pants.”
Craig Wallace is convenor of Lives Worth Living, a disability advocacy group speaking out about euthanasia and eugenics. People with disabilities are already overlooked in our healthcare system, and euthanasia laws will only make things worse.