Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Who Chooses Suicide in a Vacuum?"

read the essay in The New York Times
You don't see many people with serious disabilities out campaigning for assisted suicide laws. 

A good number of crips are thoroughly and completely opposed. Every sophisticated crip remembers the Kevorkian protocol—come one, come all, you want to die, and I'm willing to help.

If you're interested in a thoughtful discussion of the assisted suicide issue from the perspective of a person with a disability, you can find one in The New York Times today, "Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast." It's written by Ben Mattlin.

Mattlin dicusses to the gentle persuasion toward doing the right thing that comes about when a life-and-death decision is to be made by (or for) a person with a disability. The entire essay is worth reading, but the point he makes is somewhat summarized here:
Perhaps, as advocates contend, you can’t understand why anyone would push for assisted-suicide legislation until you’ve seen a loved one suffer. But you also can’t truly conceive of the many subtle forces — invariably well meaning, kindhearted, even gentle, yet as persuasive as a tsunami — that emerge when your physical autonomy is hopelessly compromised.
But there is something to be inferred from Mattlin's point of view, something he doesn't deal with directly but is real all the same, and that's the guilt that arises from physical dependency.

I know I compromised my parents' lives. I know my brother has sacrificed for me. I know my wife's life is warped by my physical dependency. Each of their lives would have been easier had I not emerged from the iron lung alive. 

I feel that guilt every day, every hour, every minute. It is a guilt I carry but cannot dwell upon, or it would inspire a suicide that needed no assistance.

Not too many years ago, I was one crip adamantly opposed to assisted suicide laws, with that opposition mostly colored by the ghoulish ambition of Kevorkian to turn euthanasia into a medical protocol. I'm less sure now, somewhat reassured by the lack of abuse in Oregon and Washington.

And yet there is the ugly example of the evolution toward active euthanasia in the Netherlands. That's enough to give any crip pause.

In the push for assisted suicide, what people with disabilities fear is that those doing the "assisting" (or advocating for assisted suicide in specific cases) will do so based on their perceptions of living life disabled.

Disability is a tough town, sure. There's pain, frustration, anger, discrimination, lack of access, infantilization, dependency, guilt, and other negative factors with which to deal. But there is also the same joys to be found that come to every living being. 

I can visualize circumstances where I might want to end my life. What I cannot visualize is the state—or someone who doesn't love me, who doesn't have a complete understanding of my emotions and physical capacities—making that decision for me.

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