Saturday, January 21, 2006

Mary Johnson on Oregon's Death with Dignity Law

See this op-ed in the Los Angeles Daily News. It begins:

Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling on Oregon's Death With Dignity Law was greeted with dismay by some major disability rights groups in the U.S., but not for the reasons traditional right-to-die opponents offer. Disability groups raise no "sanctity of life" argument. They worry about discrimination.

"The Supreme Court had an amicus brief about the discrimination inherent in the assisted-suicide law, but they ignored that argument," said Diane Coleman, head of the group Not Dead Yet, which organized a decade ago to fight legalization of physician-assisted suicide.

One might think that disability-rights activists would be strong supporters of the "right to die" - after all, the independent-living movement's core beliefs, that people should be able to make their own choices and control their own lives, seem to be exactly the beliefs that drive right-to-die advocates.

But the problem with laws like Oregon's, say groups like Not Dead Yet, the National Council on Independent Living, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association and the World Institute on Disability - all of whom oppose the Oregon law - has to do with the society in which we find ourselves. Both our attitudes about disability and the economic realities of today's U.S. health care system make disability activists' worries about discrimination realistic.

Life with a disability is so devalued, society is so bigoted against the idea that life with a severe disability can have quality, that in such a climate the "right to die" becomes a "duty to die," say activists, citing movies like last year's Golden Globe winner "Million Dollar Baby" and the documentary "The Sea Inside." Activists fear that people who become disabled will choose suicide over living with disability. They fear that people whose disabilities make them burdens on family members will be pressured - subtly or not so subtly - to end their lives.


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