Hear from a Person with Disabilities
I am totally opposed to any changes to the legislation governing euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS) in NZ because of its dangers.
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I am making this submission as an individual from a disability/humans rights perspective; I am not motivated by religion or faith and this submission will mostly address Terms of Reference 3: The attitudes of New Zealanders towards the ending of one's life and the current legal situation.
I am totally opposed to any changes to existing law on the grounds that allowing Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide (EAS) will place already vulnerable people – disabled people, elderly people, people with chronic conditions, sick people – in an even more vulnerable position when they are sick or near the end of life.
We live in a society which valorises the ‘able-body’ and ‘able-mind’ to the extent that to be disabled in any way – physically, senses, intellectually, cognitively – is to be highly devalued to the extent that it is better to be “dead than disabled”.
Under these conditions it would be murderous to sanction EAS for anyone, let alone disabled people.
Legalising EAS will change all citizens’ relationships with their doctors. A disabled student of mine with high support needs was asked when being admitted to hospital if she wanted Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) put on her medical notes. She said she wanted the opposite and asked for it to be clearly stated that she wanted to be resuscitated in her medical notes. Next time she was admitted to hospital, the doctor asked her if she was sure she wanted DNR on her medical notes!
Someone in the hospital system had written an instruction on her file in direct opposition to her wishes, which illustrates the fears of many in the disability community that clinicians see disabled people as not worthy of life saving interventions. This person has since died (ironically of medical misadventure), but her story highlights why many disabled people have difficulty trusting the medical establishment under current arrangements; think of how fraught it will become for disabled people, especially those with high support needs, to go into hospital if EAS is legalised?
Disabled and elderly people with high support needs will be aware of the costs they are imposing on their families and health system generally; where EAS is legal the ‘right to die’ could become the ‘duty to die‘ for such people.
Many of the proponents of EAS make the ‘loss of dignity’ argument for legalising EAS. They say that loss of control and dependence on others for toileting, showering, dressing, moving around etc make life not worth living and therefore state assisted suicide should be available. As someone who has lived with bladder and bowel incontinence for 47 years and, from time-to-time, been dependent on others for dressing and getting around, I find this argument entirely specious.
It is much to our shame that NZ has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the world; legalising assisted suicide would send mix messages to those contemplating suicide making the decision to suicide easier.
EAS interferes with natural endings. Granting a very small but vocal minority the right to end their lives prematurely with the blessings of the State and, potentially, its assistance through public health, implicates all citizens in this deadly and unnatural game of death while simultaneously undermining the choice of many others to live when seriously ill.
What disabled and vulnerable people need is not euthanasia or assisted suicide when they are ill, but the knowledge that good palliative care that focuses on their physical, emotional, social, cultural and spiritual needs is readily available. We need a law that states unambiguously that we are of value and that all District Health Boards are to be funded adequately for palliative care services.