Saturday, 12 October 2013

Assisted Suicide: On the Defensive Thanks to Privileged People with a Disability

This post is from the blog of William Peace. Based in New York State, William writes under the blog name of 'Bad Cripple'. He comments: PARALYZED SINCE I WAS 18 YEARS OLD, I HAVE SPENT MUCH OF THE LAST 30 YEARS THINKING ABOUT THE REASONS WHY THE SOCIAL LIFE OF CRIPPLED PEOPLE IS SO DIFFERENT FROM THOSE WHO AMBULATE ON TWO FEET.

He writes:

Last week, Stephen Hawking supported assisted suicide. This week Donald Low supported assisted suicide a few days before he died.  Low was a Toronto based microbiologist and infectious disease specialist who rose to international prominence in 2003 with the SARS outbreak. Low was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this year. The National Post, Globe and Mail and every major Canadian newspaper has published obituaries and on line one can watch a short video Low made before he died. The video is sad and undoubtedly will have an emotional impact on those who view it. The impact is designed to do one thing: garner support for assisted suicide legislation in Canada. I think Low's video is quite effective. In fact it is more effective than the video of Hawking. Hawking and Low have proved two powerful intellectuals can be wrong.  I regret these videos will likely be seen by many Canadians. This is not the finest hour for either man. Instead of relying on their great intellectual ability, Hawking and Low provide emotional not logical support for assisted suicide. Thus I find the following statement by Low misleading and unfortunate: "To those who oppose physician-assisted suicide I wish they could live in my body for for 24 hours and I think they would change that opinion"Sorry but this does not resonate for me as I have lived my entire adult life as a paralyzed man.

Hawking and Low strike me as oblivious to the typical experience of people with a disability. Typical meaning a life that is not respected or valued. A life dominated by unemployment, social isolation and economic deprivation. In sharp contrast,  Hawking and Low command instant respect. They are Ivory Tower scholars. Their intellects are powerful as is their prestige. No one will question the value of their lives. As such, they represent the tiny fraction of people with a disability that have attained great respect and the privilege that comes with it. I sincerely doubt if Hawking or Low put any thought into the rights of people with a disability. Hawking has never expressed any interest in people with a disability. Low was consumed with his own impending death and to my knowledge knew nothing about disability.

Low is of interest to me because he is the archetype for assisted suicide. Indeed, he could be the poster boy for advocates of assisted suicide legislation.  He is a distinguished scholar who mere days before he died wanted to make a death bed statement. Such words carry great weight given his prominence. In addition, no one wants a person to suffer as they approach death. Low is beyond criticism--to critique his words is impolite. Low's statement reflects what has been taking place in Canada for the last year (especially in Quebec). A growing tide of support  that favors some form of death with dignity law.  In fact one could argue the passage of a death with dignity law in Canada appears to be inevitable. Arguments against assisted suicide legislation are dismissed on two grounds: first, legislation will include multiple safe guards and be made available to only those with a terminal condition who are competent. Second, the opposition to assisted suicide is generalized and does not amount to much more than a set of refrains that have not been proven.

What proponents of assisted suicide legislation like to overlook are the reasons why people want to end their life. Low stated he did not want to suffer. This is misleading. His pain could be controlled--this is the norm at the end of life. Low wanted to die because he had lost control over his life. Likely a first for a man like Low. Low was also afraid. He was afraid his death would be a "protracted process" and that he would lose control over "normal bodily functions". This is not very convincing and accurately represents the so called "refrain" from those opposed to assisted suicide: the elderly, terminally ill and disabled. Low believes the loss of control and bodily functions is a good enough reason to die. I listened to Low's words an think he devalued the existence of scores of people: the elderly, terminally ill, and disabled. If I followed Low's line of reasoning one could argue I had the right to die. I have lost a degree of control over my life because I am paralyzed. I have tenuous control of my bodily functions. Yet here I sit in Syracuse with a football game on the television as background noise and think my life is great. Low, like Hawking, has utterly failed to adapt. Two brilliant men lack any vision. They have failed to imagine what life could be and instead focused on death and suffering. This is deemed news worthy. So here I sit and shake my head in wonder. In Washington DC ADAPT is undertaking a number of protests. ADAPT is dominated by people with a disability who have an imagination and vision but lack adequate social supports. These people are the norm. They do not have a position at prestigious universities. They do not think about theoretical physics or infectious control systems. All people active in ADAPT want to do is live a good life. A life that includes a disability and to live social supports are required. It is in the best interests of all people that such social support exists.  Sadly, ADAPT will be ignored. I doubt the protests will even merit filler space in newspapers. In its place much time will be spent discussing how to die and under what circumstances death is preferable to life. When I see videos made by Hawking and Low I think back to 2010 when I was critically ill. I was isolated and truly miserable despite the great efforts of my family to provide support. It was a real low point in my life. I am in an opposite place now. I am happy--tremendously happy to be alive and productive. I am producing first rate scholarship and have many avenues to research to explore. To do this requires some imagination, effort and the ability to look at what is possible. This seems to involve a lot more than a so called "refrain".

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