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30 Sep 07, 11:59 PM - Ethical Considerations

Posted by Mark

During my student years, I published a journal article on legalized physician-assisted suicide laws and their potential consequences for people with disabilities. My general thesis was that such laws (like the one that had been recently enacted in Oregon) would create a social climate where people with disabilities, either because of subtle family pressures or because of a lack of access to community supports, would be more likely to seek out assisted suicide. Since I first wrote that article, my views on the topic have become more laissez-faire. Research studies seem to suggest that assisted suicide laws are not being used to target people with disabilities or other vulnerable populations. Of course, one scientific study is not conclusive, but the evidence is difficult to discount.

Plenty of disability activists remain concerned about the dangers of legalized assisted suicide, but I now wonder if a balance can be struck that balances the interests of those who feel threatened by such laws against the interests of those who might have a justifiable desire to determine the time and manner of one's death. Bias against disability certainly exists and that dynamic creates plenty of scenarios that are fraught with moral ambiguity. For example, over ninety percent of prenatal diagnoses of Down's Syndrome result in elective abortion. I'm not sure that this means the disability community should be championing restrictions on abortion.

The controversy surrounding assisted suicide is, in some ways, a sideshow that has the potential to distract the disability community from more pressing issues. If people with disabilities had better access to housing, jobs, and support services, perhaps activists would be less inclined to worry about the possibility--already somewhat remote--that we might seek a way to end it all.

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At 12:44 PM on 02 Oct 2007, Chris Page wrote:

Mark

I'd say that 90% of any impairment gropup being denied the right to a life before death is something we as Disabled people OUGHT to get exercised about - and the same percentage is true for Spina Bifida, my particular condition. If we don't protect our own, how can we expect non-disabled people to take our issues onboard? Complacency is our enemy - and physician-assisted suicide IS a topic we need to be monitoring.

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At 10:35 PM on 02 Oct 2007, Zephyr wrote:

Someone I knew took his life last week. He had late-stage Lyme disease and just couldn't live with the pain anymore. There was nothing the doctors could do, so he took a 13-story dive. I respect his choice. There have been times when the pain has been so bad I would have opted out, if I hadn't known that new joints or new drugs might help. I do support euthanasia laws, but like you, am a little afraid they will be used to pressure PWDs into dying against their wills.

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