Disability Activists Criticize Administration and Supreme Court on Assisted Suicide Ruling

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Disability rights activists are angered and frustrated by the U. S. Supreme Court and the Dept. of Justice in their handling of Oregon assisted suicide case. The president of the lead organization that filed a disability brief in Gonzales v. Oregon says that both the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court failed in their duties.

Disability rights activists are angered and frustrated by the U. S. Supreme Court and the Dept. of Justice in their handling of Oregon assisted suicide case. The Court ruled 6-3 today that Oregon's "Death with Dignity" Law was legal.

"Both the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court have failed us," said Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, a national disability rights group founded in 1996 when the Supreme Court previously considered assisted suicide.

"First we continue our criticism of the Administration for not bringing the challenge to the Oregon law under the Americans With Disabilities Act," says Coleman. As Justice Kennedy points out, the law "only" applies to very sick people. Making suicide easy and socially approved for people who, according to the Oregon Reports, feel like burdens on their families, is discrimination against a socially devalued group. Assisted suicide is not a benefit, it's a threat. It's no accident that Oregon has the highest elder suicide rate in the U.S., apart from the Oregon Law.

We're also disappointed that the Supreme Court, which had an amicus brief about the discrimination inherent in the assisted suicide law, ignored that argument. Judging by the split in the Court vote, it's clear that the Court accepted the usual portrayal of assisted suicide as an issue of "compassionate progressives" versus the "religious right," completely ignoring the discrimination argument.

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 in the context of major budget cuts in government funded health care and in anticipation of the coming wave of aging baby boomers.

"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," says Coleman. "Otherwise, what looks like freedom is really only discrimination."

Last summer, 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.

For further information, contact:

Diane Coleman, Stephen Drake

708-209-1500, exts. 11 & 29

708-420-0539 (cell)

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Stephen Drake