What Happens to People With Disabilities When You Legalize Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide?

Opinion   |   Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick   |   Jul 3, 2015   |   2:05PM   |   Washington, DC

Note: Andy R responded to Kevin Fitzpatrick’s article: Assisted suicide for disabled people – democracy in Britain? The comments by Andy R are published below his article. This article is Kevin’s response to Andy R. Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick (pictured above) is the director of Hope Ireland:

I would ‘loathe me’ too if I ever pressurised you or anyone else to stay alive for such a self-serving reason. I can’t actually see any reason or moment when I would contemplate pressurising someone this way, although I know that when people cannot bear even to imagine losing their beloved, they might allow themselves to go down that road, for love.

Supporting someone in the depth of despair is first and foremost to recognise that – at least some of them – are serious about wanting to die. And many with very good reason – precisely because the kind of support they need is absent. When we are faced with the conviction that there really is nothing left, nothing at all, no person, no event, no medication, nothing but the need to be gone, then speaking about choice (and autonomy) is empty. Empty because what gives life meaning depends on a grandchild’s birthday party, the best cup of coffee in town, the kindness of a smile, all the millions of things we count in a human life, most of all the love of others, the ones for whom we feel we must push the extra mile, the ones we love back.

That is no mere support. Giving it, watching our loved ones not getting enough of it, say in a clinical setting, or not having what feeds our human depths despite the best professional intentions, noticing and coming to fear that absence for ourselves – it is all the stuff of human despair, feeling alien in this world, dying.

The question is not whether you or I or anyone else wants ‘the option’ for surely we all do want a peaceful painless, swift and comfortable death? I would never deny you or anyone else this either. To be clear, I want it too.

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The question is what happens when you legalise this as a process. There is nothing to stop anyone committing suicide now, and people do, in exactly the way you describe, but also in more horrific ways. Suicides, like all human deaths, matter.

The problem comes when you say to others ‘This is legal – so go ahead, no questions will be asked.’ The problem then is how do we know – older people, suggestible people, people made vulnerable by facing just the very thoughts you express – how do we know they really did not change their minds or were not so imbued with the idea by weeks months years of subtle pressure that they jumped willingly. Pressure is not one thing in human life.

So the question then comes: if I legalise this for me, for my fears, my projection of what it will be, must be like – how will I feel if even just one person dies as a result of the abuse of the law? Should I not care?

I am as afraid of my suffering as you are. But by the way, getting a diagnosis is not what you might think – ‘This cancer will kill you and it is going to be very hard.’ ‘When?’ (How long?) ‘Well, we have this treatment to try. And that. Results here have been very good, and new drugs are being produced literally almost daily…’ The answer to when also includes ‘You still might get hit by (the proverbial) bus’ and it has to…doctors are not soothsayers and medicine is always a ‘probabilistic art’.

Disabled people come in all shapes and sizes like the rest of the population. Some of them naturally come to reflect the communities in which they live, where they have been reinforced for a lifetime that they are ‘less’. But in what possible way would I fight for the right of every individual to live independently, to live with meaning, only to whip to that away at their death?

Protection in law for all of us is vital, for the society I believe in, as is the ‘right’ of every citizen to all of the very best end-of-life care possible, even though we are far from that.

The problem with the groups is that sone consider disabled people as perfectly understandable candidates for elimination. That is now written into a Canadian court decision in black-and-white. So let’s be clear who (or what – the State) is doing in giving all their choices into the hands of third parties, doctors or not, and doing it in law when the disabled person has no legal; recourse afterwards.

Find a better way to protect people, disabled or not? The only way to secure our future is when you understand what is really happening – not in a ‘hogwash’ way – not in a way that seeks to diminish the person who writes like I do from years of experience, research and evidence. Our hope comes when you say ‘Hang on a minute – maybe there’s something here after all’. When you pause to think again, then I have done what I need to do – try to protect us from the unthinking. And worse – we most need protection from those who proclaim themselves as ‘courageous’ for following their ‘logic’ – to say that killing disabled neo-nates, and older people with dementia is good healthcare planning.