The Disabled and Euthanasia

One of the main reasons that people request euthanasia is a "diminished quality of life."
  • It can also be said that those disabled persons with "incurable" conditions might also have a lessened "quality of life."
  • Those with a mentally retarding condition also fall under this category, but might not have the ability to comprehend the possibility of euthanasia.
  • Under those circumstances, it is possible that a therapist or doctor could recommend euthanasia as a "treatment" to the patients family or guardians.
In several countries around the world, the issue that a disabled person should have a right to die, has been fought out in various court cases. Some disabled want to die, others fear that they will be required to die.

There are now many disabled interest groups committed to protecting themselves from the threat of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Euthanasia advocates in the Hemlock Society argue that for many non-disabled people, the fear of being disabled is greater than the fear of death. The greatest fear of all is relying on family or caregivers for "toileting"“ and the indignity associated with this dependence.

The argument is that if a person is, or becomes severely disabled, they should have the right to voluntary "death with dignity", albeit with the proper legal safeguards.

The American experience reveals considerable public sympathy for those severely disabled who seek to die, and for those parents who euthanise their disabled child.


There is considerable public sympathy for those severely disabled who seek to die, and for those parents who "euthanise" their disabled child.
The Disabled Person's Case
The case for the disabled is put by Diane Coleman, President of Not Dead Yet, the national US disability rights and advocacy group opposed to legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia, in the compendium "The Case Against Assisted Suicide".

She claims that the emergence of disability rights groups resulted from their perception that the courts, media, the public and many health professionals, tended to take a far more negative view of being disabled – than the disabled did themselves.

For example, Coleman cites the case of a women who was shot, became a quadriplegic and dependent on a ventilator. Horrified at her situation and quality of life, she gained a court order and the ventilator was turned off.

It takes at least six months for the newly disabled person to come through the initial trauma and begin to see that life does go on.


Coleman says all this happened before disability advocates had the opportunity to speak with her and talk about the alternatives. They say that it takes at least six months for the newly disabled person to come through the initial trauma and begin to see that life does go on and there are various alternatives for long-term care.

It is common for the disabled (usually women) to lose their non-disabled spouse. But in time many establish new marriages or relationships. With appropriate in-home support, even the most severely disabled prove to be successful parents.

Canadian Mark Pickup, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1984, believes that physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill will eventually be extended to the incurably ill, then the chronically ill, the disabled, mentally ill and depressed people.

Commenting on the case of a man charged with killing his disabled daughter, Pickup says, "Murder is an odd way to show love." He says her death is just symptomatic of the hardening and even vicious attitude of today's society towards those who they deem less than perfect - the over-weight, older, emotionally ill, physically disabled, dying. Read here

A Burden on Society
The disabled are acutely aware of being a "burden" on family and society. The provision of in-home, long-term care is crucial to the assisted suicide/euthanasia debate. Such care is the preferred option for most disabled people.

However, in the United States, health insurance companies and Medicare increasingly seeking to “cap” or rationalise the funds available for long-term care of the disabled.

Bioethicist Peter Singer argues that some [people] are a burden on society and that it is morally right and just to kill them.



Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher holds a chair in bioethics at Princeton University and is an increasingly influential advocate for euthanasia of the disabled.

He is forthright in his views, arguing that some of the ill and disabled lack the attributes of full "personhood". They are a burden on society and that it is morally right and just to kill them.

Such publicly expressed views have galvanised disability groups to defend their interests and right-to-live.

Discrimination
Not Dead Yet points out:
"No bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide applies to all citizens equally, but singles out individuals based on their health status in violation of the American with Disabilities Act.

The legalization of physician-assisted suicide gives physicians the power to decide who will be given suicide prevention and who will receive suicide assistance and is, therefore, not based on individual choice and autonomy."
Economic Aspects
One of the reasons euthanasia gained such a hold in The Netherlands, a country that has universal coverage and fully socialized medicine
, was because of economics. Every doctor knew the cost for each treatment.

End of Life Choices executive director, issued a statement endorsing killing individuals - - such as people with Alzheimer's disease and children with disabilities.



In December 1997, Faye Girsh, executive director of the pro-euthanasia Hemlock Society USA (now End of Life Choices), issued a statement endorsing killing individuals - - such as people with Alzheimer's disease and children with disabilities - - who are legally incapable of making the decision themselves.

"A judicial determination should be made," Girsh said, "when it is necessary to hasten the death of an individual whether it be a demented parent, a suffering, severely disabled spouse or a child." (Confronted with vigorous protests by disability rights activists, Girsh later tried to pull back, issuing a "clarification statement" calling this position simply "one suggestion about the question of ending suffering" not officially endorsed by the Hemlock Society.)

"Is there a duty to die - a responsibility within the family unit - that should remain voluntary but expected nevertheless?"
- Derek Humphry



In December 1998, the founder of the Hemlock Society, Derek Humphry, wrote positively of the use of assisted suicide as "one measure of cost containment." Humphry said in his book, Freedom to Die, that the elderly are putting a strain on the health care system that will only increase and cannot be sustained."

Speaking of people with disabilities, he wrote, "People with chronic conditions account for a disproportionately large share of health care use, both services and supplies." In light of all this, he asked, "Is there a duty to die -a responsibility within the family unit - that should remain voluntary but expected, nevertheless?" Read more here

Euthanasia as Treatment
"No Less Human" is a group for disabled people, their families and carers, they challenge the idea of 'death with dignity'. Alison Davis, National Co-ordinator for the group has spina bifida, emphysema and osteoporosis, and has used a wheelchair full time for the last nineteen years.

She suffers severe spinal pain on a daily basis. She was committed to ending her life for the first ten years of illness and made serious suicide attempts but was saved by friends who not only administered treatment against her will but gave her hope.

Davis asks "Would any doctor really wait (10 years) if euthanasia were legal and the patient qualified for it?" She also states "what has changed is not my medical condition, but my outlook on life."

In July 2005 Davis presented a submission to the House of Keys regarding the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill introduced to the UK parliament in Jan 2004 which allows patients 14 days to change their minds after requesting euthanasia.

Davis asks "Would any doctor really wait (10 years) if euthanasia were legal and the patient qualified for it?" She also states "what has changed is not my medical condition, but my outlook on life."

The Diane Pretty Case
Diane Pretty, who was in the advanced stages of motor neurone disease when she died in 2002 , lost a legal battle to allow her husband to help her commit suicide.

Mr Pretty said that his wife always wanted him to help her commit suicide because she feared the choking and asphyxia often caused by her disease. He stated that she felt the law had taken her rights away.

In a statement issued by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES), her husband stated "Diane had to go through the one thing she had foreseen and was afraid of - and there was nothing I could do to help." She slipped into a coma after suffering breathing difficulties. The BBC News Webpage covered the death and the head of medical services at the Pasque Hospice, Luton where Mrs Pretty was cared for said her death was "perfectly normal, natural and peaceful".

One major area of concern for most people is the wish to not impose a burden on those remaining. This is understandable and can be overcome with counselling and the reassurances of one's loved ones.


A Duty to Die
One of the biggest concerns for disabled rights organisations is that, if euthanasia is legalised, the 'right to die' will soon become a 'duty to die.' One major area of concern for most people is the wish to not impose a burden on those remaining. This is understandable and can be overcome with counselling and the reassurances of one's loved ones.

The introduction of physician-assisted suicide may lead to abuse through the singling out of the vulnerable who have no voice— the poor, the disabled, the elderly, and the very young.

The duty to die, once imposed, will affect everyone except for the very rich, and the well connected.

Euthanasia - sanitised murder?
"Murder is an odd way to show love" said Canadian Mark Pickup, commenting on the case of a man charged with killing his disabled daughter. He says her death is just symptomatic of the hardening and even vicious attitude of today's society towards those who they deem less than perfect - the over-weight, older, emotionally ill, physically disabled, dying.

"We, the disabled of Canada, face the hard edge of an uncertain future, of an increasing societal hostility," said Pickup.

"It's a scary time to be disabled in Canada. We can't even guarantee that justices in Canada care to protect the lives of the incurably ill and the disabled."

He also explained how medical terminology uses words like genetic cleansing, selective reduction, genetic termination to twist people's understanding.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1984, wheelchair bound by multiple sclerosis, Pickup knows what he is talking about. His advocacy began when he was provoked by what he saw as a well-orchestrated campaign that began in the early 1990s to legitimise assisted suicide.

He became a spokesman for the rights of the disabled, offering hope and life rather than death. Mark received numerous speaking invitations from coast to coast in Canada, addressing community groups, churches, medical staffs, disability organizations, and universities.

He told audiences, "Dignity is not achieved by injecting a toxic substance into people's bloodstream when they are at their lowest ebb. Dying with dignity is a by-product of having lived with it."

Pickup says that proponents of assisted suicide always begin by referring to it as an option intended exclusively for the terminally ill. "They talk about tight, narrow euthanasia guidelines."

But guidelines will always be challenged, then flouted, then eventually discarded. It has happened with abortion. It happened with euthanasia in Holland, it happened with the T4 euthanasia program in Nazi Germany.

Pickup believes that physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill will eventually be extended to the incurably ill, then the chronically ill, the disabled, mentally ill and depressed people. "I have even encountered people who envision a golden age of assisted suicide available to everyone on demand," he says.

"If I ask others to participate in that rejection, then I ask them to compromise their humanity. Even in my advanced multiple sclerosis, I have no right to ask that from anyone or society. Assisted suicide kills three things: human life, sanctity of life and human conscience."