Assisted Suicide Ad in NM: Yay or Nay?

There are people with disabilities on both sides of this issue. Pictured is Dustin Hankinson, recipient of C&C's 2011 Hugh Gallagher award.

There are people with disabilities on both sides of this issue. Pictured is Dustin Hankinson, recipient of Compassion & Choices’ 2011 Hugh Gallagher award.

For the first time ever, New Mobility has accepted an ad that takes a side in a “culture war” issue that directly deals with disability. It’s not that we’ve turned down controversial ads in the past — to my knowledge it’s just never come up before.

Perhaps you’ve seen the ad I’m referring to running along the right side of your screen — it’s by Compassion & Choices and invites readers to sign a petition in support of expanded rights to assisted suicide. If you don’t see it, try refreshing your browser.

Assisted suicide comes up often among our staff and always leads to great discussions. A few of us, myself included, fall more in line with the Not Dead Yet camp — NDY being the lead disability rights group opposing assisted suicide. We complain that discrimination against people with disabilities is so rampant, and yet what civil right does society rally behind? Our right to die. I have MS. I have a hard time even getting life insurance because the industry expects me to keel over before I hit 60. Campaigns that capitalize on how awful it must be to have conditions like MS — and yes, some days it is bloody awful — do not help.

And just last week our editor Tim Gilmer and I had a long, passionate discussion about all the ways our health insurance and benefits systems grind down and crush people with disabilities such as MS and SCI. We are all one medical emergency away from being forced into poverty, from losing everything, from having everything that makes life sweet being stripped away.

But on the other hand …

On the other hand, those who say this is a choice issue — as others on staff contend — well, they’re right, too. We must preserve the right to turn down treatments, to refuse medications, to reject surgeries … if we cannot have control over what is done by others to our own bodies, what can we control? That is the foundation of the independent living philosophy, is it not? That shining philosophy asserting that we are the experts on our own bodies, our own lives, and that we have a right to make our own decisions is the wellspring from which our disability movements emanate. And if we decide, after much thought and consideration, that we cannot continue — should we not have the right and means to end it?

And so the discussion rages back and forth.

These are important issues, and are worth every hot word, every passionate argument. What’s at stake is either our right to determine our own end of life decisions or our very right to live, depending on your perspective.

What is your opinion? Where do you fall on this issue? Let us know.

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  1. James Weisman says:

    I have worked with spinal cord injured individuals for 35 years at EPVA – United Spinal/NSCIA. I have met many quads right after their injuries, have watched their families struggle, and them struggle to go on after this devastating, life changing accident and heard them say many times that they’d rather be dead. While I am certain that a few still feel that way several years later most realize that life is worth living, that they still can laugh and love and contribute to family and community. Depression alone cannot be allowed to become a reason for assisting someone who can’t physically kill themselves to end their life. I suspect depression is the reason for most suicide and I, for one, would intervene to stop a nondisabled, depressed person from killing themselves. I can’t help but think those assisting depressed disabled persons to kill themselves think that because of the presence of disabling conditions this is a valid alternative to living with a disability. Depression should be treated, suicide prevented – not assisted, and those offering to assist should be educated about the potential for a meaningful and fulfilling life after disability.

  2. Marsha Katz says:

    Legalizing physician assisted suicide in our current climate of rationed health care/managed care actually helps remove choice for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. By reducing access to more costly prescribed/needed treatments and offering to pay instead for suicide medication, as happened in Oregon to Barbara Wagner, for example, states will actually force an outcome, Choice should include the real choice to keep living with the treatment and services needed, not making a false choice because no other options exist. When we live in a country that provides good comprehensive health care, adequate pain management and sufficient personal assistance services to all, then choosing to die may actually be a choice. Until then, it is simply being marketed as a “right” in order to get sheep to choose slaughter by the so-called “dignity” clothed wolves in the medical and governmental arenas looking to gain profit at our expense.

  3. The legalization of assisted suicide is very dangerous. When assisted suicide is legal, it’s the cheapest treatment available——an attractive option in our profit-driven healthcare system. Terminal diagnoses are too often wrong, leading people to give up on treatment and lose good years of their lives. If one doctor says “no,” people can, and do, “doctor shop” for that “yes.” No psychological evaluation is required, putting depressed people in danger. The highly-touted “safeguards” turn out to be truly hollow, to a degree that is appalling, with no enforcement or investigation authority. And assisted suicide is a prescription for the abuse of people with disabilities, and for elder abuse. An heir or abusive caregiver can steer someone towards assisted suicide, witness the request, pick up the lethal dose, and even give the drug — no witnesses are required at the death, so who would know? We all already have the right to refuse medical treatment and the right to good pain relief, including palliative sedation if dying in pain. Because the dangers so outweigh any benefit, many national disability organizations, plus the AMA and virtually all state medical associations oppose the legalization of assisted suicide.

    You can read more at http://dredf.org/public-policy/assisted-suicide/

  4. The C&C ad is misleading and dishonest. The late author Hugh Gallagher was a dear friend and we spent many hours discussing this issue. He resigned from the C&C board because they were changing positions on physician assisted death (pad) from making it available to people with a terminal disease diagnosis to pad for people with disabilities. It is misleading and sleazy for C&C to present an award in Hugh’s name.
    Moreover, if you click on their ad, it says C&C celebrates the ADA. Their only purpose is expanding the availability of PAD. ADA is about removing barriers in the built environment and stopping discrimination so we can each live life in the way we choose. C&C equates ADA with suicide. What a twisted subversion of the civil rights that so many of us (including Hugh Gallagher) fought long and hard for.
    For more on physician assisted suicide and disability see http://www.notdeadyet.org

  5. Suicide and assisted suicide are very different things. Suicide is not illegal under any state statute. But assisted suicide is about how physicians and others respond to someone who says they want to commit suicide. While society calls suicide a preventable tragedy for most, assisted suicide laws would carve out a deadly exception to suicide prevention policies for certain old, ill and disabled people whose eligibility for suicide assisted suicide is determined by doctors based on whatever knowledge, biases, time, attention span and other motivations they as individuals may have. People with disabilities are collectively all too familiar with the potential for physician error.

    On August 22, 2014, Not Dead Yet submitted a Disability Rights friend-of-the-court brief in support of the New Mexico Attorney General’s appeal seeking to overturn a district court ruling that the New Mexico constitution contains a right to assisted suicide. The brief was joined by ADAPT, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the National Council on Independent Living, and the United Spinal Association. The motion urging the court to consider the perspective of the Disability Rights Amici said:

    “Their members, as well as other people with severe disabilities, are the potential targets of physician-assisted suicide. Their members have faced family and physicians who have actively deprived them of fundamental rights and liberties that others take for granted. They have members whose physicians have mistakenly told them they have six months to live, but have lived far beyond that prognosis. . . . Some members’ families have been urged by physicians to remove life-sustaining treatment at a critical juncture and, after their families fought such recommendations, have survived and gone on to value their lives. Some members initially contemplated suicide following a severe and life-threatening injury, but were denied that option under prior law, and went on to value their lives.”

  6. “Terminal diagnosis” is one of the biggest jokes in the disability community. Everyone knows people who have been assigned an early death. How can we support a practice that would make so many mistakes? If you are against the death penalty, you should be against the assisted suicide penalty.
    And what ever else assisted suicide is, it is not about pain. Pain is a medical problem that palliative care can solve. As renowned palliative care expert Dr. Ira Byock has testified,
    If I thought lethal prescriptions were necessary to alleviate suffering, I would support them. In 34 years of practice, I have never abandoned a patient to die in uncontrolled pain and have never needed to hasten a patient’s death. Alleviating suffering is different from eliminating the sufferer. Allowing a person to die gently is importantly different from actively ending the person’s life.
    We disabled people have lives that frequently look like the lives of people requesting assisted suicide, but we reject as bizarre the notion that personal dignity is somehow lost through physical dependence on others. We already encounter massive prejudice in the medical care system, which is all too ready to have us die without treatment. I know many people with disabilities living vibrant, active lives contributing to the community who have been encouraged to sign Do Not Resuscitate orders or decline life-saving treatment.
    What we disabled people see in legalizing assisted suicide is that some people get suicide prevention, while others get suicide assistance, based on value judgments and prejudice.
    Let’s really respect people’s self-determination by making sure everyone has the choice and supports to live comfortably at home – not in nursing homes. Please think about all the elders and disabled people who may be vulnerable and without the sort of support and control assisted suicide proponents take for granted, innocent people who will be impacted by this terrible idea. Invidious quality-of-life judgments have no place in social policy.

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