Not Dead Yet Responds to Report of the Quebec Commission on the Issue of Dying With Dignity

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Disability rights advocates from Not Dead Yet react to the Report of the Commission on the Issue of Dying With Dignity in Quebec, Canada, noting that it contains some positive measures as well as fatal flaws.

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"Unfortunately the commission’s work is marred by a lack of precision and does not take disability discrimination and elder abuse into account," said Amy Hasbrouck, Board Chair of Not Dead Yet.

The report of the Quebec parliament’s commission on dying with dignity contains some positive measures as well as fatal flaws, according to Amy Hasbrouck, a resident of Valleyfield, Quebec and board chair of Not Dead Yet, an international disability rights organization opposed to the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

“They have addressed some important issues related to palliative care and advance directives,” said Hasbrouck. “The Commission has made an effort to respond to the needs of people near the end of life. Unfortunately the commission’s work is marred by a lack of precision and does not take disability discrimination and elder abuse into account. These factors, along with reliance on good faith and inadequate ‘safeguards,’ mean the Commission has failed elders and people with disabilities.”

The Commission was struck in December of 2009 to research and make recommendations on the issue of “death with dignity” in Québec. After more than two years of taking expert and citizen testimony, and visiting several jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal, the Commission issued its report on March 22.

The highlight of the report is 24 recommendations that emphasize the importance of palliative care but also allow “medically-assisted death” as an “option for care” for people near the end of life.

“The problem is that the eligibility criteria are open to broad interpretation.” Hasbrouck cites numerous “serious and incurable” conditions, such as ALS, Multiple Sclerosis and Muscular Dystrophy, where people can live many satisfying and productive years, even after “advanced deterioration of their capacities.” Though not terminally ill, the report language indicates that they would be eligible for euthanasia.

“The nature of the individual’s suffering could be physical or psychological, thus potentially including people who are depressed or have mental illness, and language about prognosis is too vague to protect people with disabilities,” Hasbrouck said.

Hasbrouck said the report may appeal to popular opinion, but it does nothing to address the discriminatory double standard whereby non-disabled people who want to kill themselves are directed toward suicide prevention, whereas people with disabilities who are suicidal are helped to die.

Diane Coleman, Not Dead Yet founder and CEO added, “Discrimination against any minority, including people with disabilities, should not be put up to majority vote.“

Not Dead Yet is an international organization by and for people with disabilities who oppose the legalization of assisted suicide, euthanasia and similar practices that discriminate against disabled people. Unlike religious and conservative “right-to-life” groups, NDY uses a disability-rights analysis to challenge the pseudo-liberal view that assisted suicide is a free choice.

“Choice is an empty slogan in a world full of social and economic pressures on people with chronic illnesses and disabilities,” said Coleman.

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