In many articles on the topic, such as this one, the only opposition to assisted death mentioned is religious opposition. However, many disability-rights advocates are extremely concerned about the increasing societal approval of assisted death, and oppose it for entirely secular reasons.
Samantha Crane is the director of public policy at the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. Crane recently lost her grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s disease. While Crane mourns her loss, she doesn’t view her grandmother’s final days as a tragic decline or a fall from the dignity of her earlier days. “She didn’t remember a lot of things, but every day she woke up, she was happy,” Crane told me. “She was dignified. I want to reclaim the term ‘dignity.’”
The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network is one of several disability-rights organizations that opposes legal physician-assisted death.
Supporters of physician-assisted death argue, however, that it’s a matter of freedom of choice whether people live or die. They say that no one should die without dignity, that sometimes life is too painful or difficult to be worth living. Thus compassion should compel us to aid someone suffering, and who has a terminal illness, to end their lives. The leading right-to-die organization, Compassion and Choices, did not reply to an emailed request for interview by the time of publishing.
Disability-rights advocates, on the other hand, are concerned that there is a double standard. Suppose a good friend of yours says that she wants to kill herself. You, and most people others close to her, would probably try to help her so she did not feel that suicide was a viable option. Suicide prevention would be the goal of the medical profession, of family and friends. Not, however, in the case of someone seeking physician-assisted death.
“The difference is your health or disability status. Then suddenly suicide is a rational decision,” Diane Coleman, president and CEO of Not Dead Yet, a disability-rights group that advocates against assisted suicide and euthanasia, told The Daily Beast. “We think equal rights should also mean equal rights to suicide prevention.”
Of course, someone who supports the right to legal assisted death would stress that it is in cases of terminal illness and pain, and not disability, in which they wish to allow people the right to die. Disability- rights advocates, however, think this can be misleading because prognoses can so often be mistaken.
“A lot of people say this is not about people with disabilities, this is about terminal prognoses,” said Crane. “Yet the disability community is filled with people who have outlived a six-month prognosis for years.”