Thursday, 1 November 2012

It makes you think...two great letters to editors on disability and assisted suicide

Some people have the ability to get the tone of a letter to an editor just right and they seem, always, to get published (though I'm sure this isn't always the case).

The following letters again focused on the Massachusetts Ballot Question 2 and appeared recently in New England newspapers:

Dear Editor: (Boston Herald) 
As a 50-something who was predicted to die in my early teens, I appreciate the studies showing that doctors are only about 20% correct in predicting life expectancy (“Kennedy Fights Assisted Suicide Effort” (10/27/12)). When the accuracy of that prediction determines whether someone gets suicide prevention versus suicide assistance, I get nervous. It’s not the proponents’ good intentions but the language of the assisted suicide law that voters need to consider.

Other “safeguards” issues raise even more concerns. The Oregon Reports admit that the state can’t assess compliance with the safeguards. Some independent articles find that safeguards failed in individual cases, but the law includes no authority for investigation or enforcement, so nothing happens as a result.

Pressure to choose assisted suicide can come in many forms, some hidden and private. Elder abuse is notoriously underreported. Sure, some people are safe, but with 19,500 reported elder abuse cases in Massachusetts in 2011, many are not. When we're talking about changing public policy that impacts the health care system that everyone depends on, and the real world of families that are not necessarily all loving and supportive, we have an obligation to think of everyone, not just those who are safe from abuse.
Diane Coleman

Dear Editor (Boston Globe)


I REALLY appreciated Jeff Jacoby’s column, “What about do no harm?” (Op-ed, Oct. 17). As he points out, the fundamental premise behind the Massachusetts “Death with Dignity” ballot measure is “that certain lives aren’t worth living.” This premise is what makes the ballot measure disability-discriminatory.
The ballot question’s discriminatory premise is why it is so infuriating to many in disability-rights circles. This bill is only granting “physician-assisted suicide” to one class of people: those who are considered “ill.” It would be one thing to legalize assisted-suicide for all consenting adults, but we are singling out one group of people who are already devalued by society. If we as a society value the right to die then allow it for everyone, not just the old, ill, and disabled.
The very title of this ballot measure further devalues this aforesaid group. It presumes that when people lose control over their bowels, bladders, or ability to breathe without a machine then they are without dignity. These kinds of ableist assumptions are precisely what take away the aspect of choice that those who are for the ballot measure speak to.
In a society that undervalues the old, the ill, and the disabled, the idea of choice is in fact an illusion.

If our society first provided this category of people with the assistance, support, and medical care they needed and valued them as a class, then (and only then) could it be seen as a choice.
Lastly, even if the measure could provide choices to some individuals, it is not acceptable to legally devalue an entire class of people in order to provide choices to a select few.
Laurie Carlson
Salem

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