Jonah Carlson: Listen to disabled on assisted suicide issue

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Published: 6/23/2020 1:54:42 PM

For years, I assumed the progressive position on assisted suicide was clear. But when I became involved in activism regarding disability rights and justice several years after becoming disabled myself, I learned more about the issue and ended up changing my mind.

Every major disability advocacy organization in the United States that has taken a position on assisted suicide opposes it. There are compelling reasons why, and legislators and the public can learn from listening to disabled voices on this issue.

Assisted suicide laws make it a legal and normal medical procedure that physicians may prescribe and health insurance may cover for terminally ill people. The biggest problem with legalized, normalized assisted suicide is how it interacts with the structural ableism that harms disabled people, and disproportionately harms those who are multiply marginalized. Misdiagnosis of illnesses as terminal is common.

In Oregon, a model state for assisted suicide, both private and government insurance plans have been documented denying cancer treatment while offering assisted suicide as an alternative.

Data collected from Oregon also shows that pain is not close to being in the top five reasons for assisted suicide. “Loss of dignity” and “feelings of being a burden” both rank far higher, issues which should be addressed by improving support services and creating a culture that values disabled lives, not by a prescription for suicide.

Over 70% of disabled people report experiencing abuse during their lifetimes. Prosecution and conviction are less common when the victim of abuse is disabled. In Oregon, there have been numerous egregious cases of caregiver abuse-involved assisted suicide that resulted in no prosecution, perhaps most notoriously the killing of trans woman Wendy Melcher.

To quote Marilyn Golden of the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, “If assisted suicide is legal, some people’s lives will be ended without their consent, through mistakes, coercion and abuse. No safeguards have ever been enacted, or even proposed, that can prevent this outcome, which can never be undone.”

Please ask your legislators to take time to listen to disabled voices on assisted suicide and to vote against H.4782 / S.2745.

Jonah Carlson


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