As the debate over doctor-assisted suicide explodes in the U.S., disability rights activists – many of whom are disabled themselves—implore legislators to study data regarding discrimination, pressure, and coercion against disabled individuals to end their own lives. Assisted suicide laws, they argue, do not denote progress in a society where disabled individuals suffer a lifelong flurry of insinuations and explicit suggestions that their lives are not worth living.
This attitude begins before disabled individuals are even born, with doctors and “experts” urging parents of preborn children with prenatal diagnoses of disabilities to abort their children. They argue that hardship diminishes the value of the child’s life – with some going so far as to insist, in eugenic fashion, that the world is a better place without persons deemed “unfit” to live.
The problem of discrimination against the disabled stretches far and wide, and threatens to implode with a number of states considering the legalization of assisted suicide. Sadly, Canada recently legalized doctor-assisted suicide, to the devastation of many disability rights campaigners.
In New York, where a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide is under consideration, a group of at least twenty activists convened at a pro-suicide legislator’s office in Albany to protest the notion, supported by the bill, that their lives are less valuable. The group was comprised of members of the disability rights group, Not Dead Yet. The organization actively opposes and protests legal attempts to devalue the lives of the disabled through assisted suicide and other forms of discrimination.
One disability rights lawyer, a woman who is wheelchair bound, stated at the event: “People with disabilities are told every day they'd be better off dead. Instead of giving suicide prevention or help, [these bills] open the doors for us to off ourselves."
The legislator’s response was, unsurprisingly, that there are “protections” in the bill to prevent suicide for the wrong reasons. But the real problem seems to be that some state leaders believe that suicide can be the solution to any problem – that suicide could ever be committed for the “right” reasons. The notion can only thrive on a fundamental misunderstanding of the dignity of human Life.
In Texas, Pro-Life legislators are taking steps to strengthen the law’s protection of the fundamental value of Life by reforming the Texas Advance Directives Act. Currently, the Act allows for unscrupulous decision-making on the part of physicians and hospitals that become more concerned with “freeing up hospital beds” than about the individuals lying in them. The Act also lacks any real authority to prohibit discrimination. In order to correct the law, Pro-Life legislators are seeking to clarify that discrimination based on disability, age, and terminal illness cannot be grounds for withholding life-sustaining treatments and care. (For more on current bills dealing with these issues, see here and here).
Every day we see examples of the value and dignity of all persons who live with disabilities. These lives – like all lives – deserve to be cherished, respected, and protected. Disabilities are difficult struggles for the people who live with them. Let’s not add weight to their struggle by suggesting that death is a solution to their burdens. Rather, as a Pro-Life community, we must offer solutions that recognize and respect the intrinsic value of their lives.