I don't feel at all qualified to speak on behalf of people living with disability even though I have shared in the lives of many people over the years and I have a son with Down Syndrome. Certainly, my association with other families who have children with Downs and spending time with dear friends with disabilities has enriched my perspective, but I don't want to stand in a public space on this issue principally because people living with disabilities can and do speak well for themselves. It is they who we should be listening to.
Certainly, Anne and I have experienced some discrimination in our time, but really only in a small way. Enough, however, to know that just below the surface of even cordial exchanges can lie poor attitudes and even bad intentions. The testimony of many friends bear this out in some disturbing ways.
So, when people living with disability speak out and say that they fear euthanasia and assisted suicide we ought, at the very least, to accept that they have a unique perspective that should be heard. And when speaking out is in response to offensive behaviours, personal and even corporate, against people living with disability as individuals or as a community we should remind ourselves that not everyone is as inclusive and egalitarian as we would hope that we are ourselves.
Craig Wallace is the President of People Living With Disability Australia, a national peak disability rights and advocacy organisation. Today he raised a post on his facebook page:
"If you want to know why euthanasia is dangerous for disability rights check out this comment on an article on welfare reform on ABC online today"
The article in question was on the ABC Online news website and concerned a planned review of the welfare system by the Federal Government which will include review of the Disability Support Pension. The article attracted 138 online comments including the following:
It would seem that the anonymity of the commenting system provides 'Simon2808' with the ability to say what he really thinks whereas one would think that had he or she used their real identity they may have been more circumspect. Of course, it could have been a joke. But if a joke, then one in extremely poor taste and one that still sheds a light on a darkened corner of his or her being.
Note also that the writer attempts to sanitize the deliberate killing of people with disability by adding the adverb 'ethically'. We've seen this all before. The eugenics movement circa the early 20th century made its sinister case based almost entirely on this kind of soft-sell.
Craig's post prompted a number of responses. This one most typical of the concern:
"Holy crap!! I got the chills reading that, Craig. It's terrifying, but there are a lot of people out there who share his views. It's a struggle."
Craig expands on this sentiment in an email:
Comments like this sum up my deep and profound unease around euthanasia.
They provide us with an uncomfortable glimpse of how quickly the public discourse on disability defaults to a discussion about ridding the community of people who would be better off dead.
It’s not isolated.
Articles on euthanasia and disability often attract comments which invite the idea that we might all better off if people with disability were out of the way.
Even if made by attention seekers they tell us that the idea that people with disability are wasters who are taking up useful resources is one that is floating around in the zeitgeist and are very close to the surface.
They should worry and dismay all disability rights activists and dispel the notion that the push for euthanasia can be contained to a harmless campaign around rights and choice for people who are dying.
For me euthanasia is not playing out as a progressive issue. It’s the tip of an extreme utilitarian agenda which is antithetical to us. I believe it presents a threat to disability rights and should be opposed by people who care about the way we are perceived and regarded until we have the same rights and supports as the rest of the community.
Whatever you think about the wider issues of choice for people who are dying – and these are difficult issues - to contemplate state sanctioned voluntary euthanasia while we have community attitudes like this held by many ordinary people should be unthinkable.Note: The offensive comment has since been removed from the ABC website but, most likely, the utilitarian and offensive attitude remains.
Craig Wallace is also the Convenor of 'Lives Worth Living' a new rights based network of Australians with disability speaking up about euthanasia and eugenics.