Disability Rights Groups to Rally Against Assisted Suicide

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Disability activists and advocates will be meeting and speaking in front of the Supreme Court on October 5, at 9:00 am. The court will be hearing oral arguments in its first assisted suicide case since 1997. The case, Gonzales v. Oregon, case No. 04-623, is the federal government’s challenge to Oregon’s assisted suicide law. Disability rights activists decry the discriminatory treatment of suicidal ill, old and disabled people. A Friend Of The Court brief in support of Gonzales was filed on behalf of the following disability organizations: Not Dead Yet, ADAPT, Center on Disability Studies, Law and Human Policy at Syracuse University, Center for Self-Determination, Hospice Patients Alliance, Mouth Magazine/Freedom Clearinghouse, National Council on Independent Living, National Spinal Cord Injury Association, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered, TASH and the World Institute on Disability.

Disability activists and advocates will be meeting and speaking in front of the Supreme Court on October 5, at 9:00 am. The court will be hearing oral arguments in its first assisted suicide case since 1997. The case, Gonzales v. Oregon, case No. 04-623, is the federal government’s challenge to Oregon’s assisted suicide law.

A Friend Of The Court brief in support of Gonzales was filed on behalf of the following disability organizations: Not Dead Yet, ADAPT, Center on Disability Studies, Law and Human Policy at Syracuse University, Center for Self-Determination, Hospice Patients Alliance, Mouth Magazine/Freedom Clearinghouse, National Council on Independent Living, National Spinal Cord Injury Association, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered, TASH and the World Institute on Disability.

Assisted suicide and disability – intimately linked.

Many people who favor legalization of assisted suicide object to the involvement of disability rights organizations in the public debate. After all, they say, assisted suicide is about terminal illness, not disability.

The disability experience is that people who are labeled "terminal," based on a medical prediction that they will die within six months, are -- or almost inevitably will become -- disabled. Furthermore, virtually all "end-of-life care" issues -- access to competent health care, adequate pain relief, in-home personal care and flexible, consumer-responsive supports, peer counseling, family support -- have been disability rights issues for decades.

In fact, although intractable pain has often been given as the primary reason for enacting assisted suicide laws, the reasons doctors actually report for issuing lethal prescriptions are the patient's "loss of autonomy" and "feelings of being a burden." These feelings arise when a person acquires physical impairments that necessitate relying on other people for help in tasks and activities formerly carried out alone. Studies of attitudes of terminally ill people toward assisted suicide and euthanasia confirm that interest in physician-assisted suicide appeared to be more a function of psychological distress and social factors than physical factors.

It should be noted that suicide, as a solitary act, is not illegal in any state. Disability concerns are focused on the systemic implications of adding assisted suicide to the list of "medical treatment options" available to seriously ill and disabled people.

Diane Coleman, president and founder of Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group founded in 1996, sums it up this way: “If the values of liberty really dictate that society legalizes assisted suicide, then legalize it for everyone who asks for it, not just the devalued old, ill and disabled. Otherwise, what looks like freedom is really only discrimination.”

For more information:

Diane Coleman, Stephen Drake

708-209-1500, exts. 11 & 29

708-420-0539 (cell)

On the web: http://www.notdeadyet.org

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