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The Slippery Slope: Assisted Suicide Laws and the Danger They Pose to the Disability Community

By Jensen Caraballo


There is no denying that assisted suicide is a complex and morally challenging topic. Often framed as an issue of personal autonomy, the debate surrounding these laws tends to center around terminal illness and individual freedom. But as a disabled person and an advocate, I believe it's critical to shed light on the hazardous implications these laws have for the disability community.


A Closer Look at Assisted Suicide Laws


Assisted suicide laws are designed to allow terminally ill patients the option to end their lives with medical assistance. However, what they also do is create an environment where the lines between "assistance" and "abuse" can easily blur, especially for disabled individuals.


Unintended Consequences for Disabled People


As disability rights advocate Diane Coleman points out, "Legalizing assisted suicide sends the wrong message—that some lives are not worth living." This view can disproportionately impact the disability community, as we are often looked upon as "burdens" or "lesser-than." Legalizing assisted suicide has the potential to open the floodgates of discrimination, abuse, and murder.


Abuse and Violence on the Rise


The risk of abuse is considerably higher for disabled individuals. The presence of assisted suicide laws could serve as an enabler for this abuse to escalate into violence, even murder. In the U.S., reports indicate that disabled people are twice as likely to be victims of violent crimes compared to non-disabled individuals. Imagine adding legally sanctioned suicide to this already grim picture.


Quote-worthy Observations from Disability Rights Advocates


Notable activist Alice Wong states, "The inherent systemic ableism within healthcare settings can make disabled lives seem less valuable, thus making assisted suicide a risk rather than a right."


Similarly, disability advocate Harriet McBryde Johnson has observed that, "The question is not whether these laws can be made better, but whether, in practice, they can be made good enough to prevent the cheapening of life in the eyes of society." When the value of disabled lives is already in question, assisted suicide laws can only further contribute to this dehumanization.


The Risks of Medical Professionals Making the Call


The physicians involved in these decisions carry biases too. They're part of a society that often sees disability as a problem to be solved or eliminated, rather than a form of human diversity to be respected and accommodated. There's a chance that doctors might actively or subconsciously encourage assisted suicide as an "option" for disabled people, further normalizing the idea that our lives are not worth living.


Call to Action: Protecting the Disability Community


We must scrutinize the systems that could easily turn from a means of "help" into a tool for harm. To protect our community, we must stand against assisted suicide laws and the dangerous precedents they set.


I sit on the Board of Directors for the SPM Disability Justice Fund and the Consumer Directed Action of New York, and it is part of our mission to raise awareness on this critical issue. We must remain vigilant and continue advocating for the protection and celebration of disabled lives, rather than entertaining laws that could end up posing existential threats to our community.


Final Thoughts


While the conversation surrounding assisted suicide is multi-faceted and deeply personal, it's crucial to consider the broader implications these laws could have on vulnerable communities. The possibility of abuse, discrimination, and violence shouldn't be glossed over; it should be at the forefront of the dialogue.


Remember, the measure of a society is often seen in how it treats its most vulnerable members. Let's not move toward a future that further marginalizes those who are already vulnerable. Instead, let's fight for a society where each life, disabled or not, is valued and protected.


Jensen Caraballo, signing off. Until next time, let's continue to raise awareness, spark dialogue, and advocate for a more inclusive and just world.


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