Assisted dying decision disappointing – I’m gutted

In this months guest blog, Philip Patston shares his views on the right-to-die case of Lecretia Seales, and the issue of voluntary euthanasia.

This morning I woke to the news that Lecretia Seales had passed away at 12.35am. As I write I am watching tweets from the NZ Herald that the Judge in her right-to-die case said no. I’m gutted about both.

I was a witness for Lecretia. I’ve kept quiet until now out of respect for her and her family. Now I feel compelled to reiterate my stance on voluntary euthanasia.

The following is taken from my affidavit. As I said in an email to Lecretia’s lawyers this morning, I think this is such an important issue and I’m committed to doing what I can to ensure that it remains high in consciousness, in public and political spheres.

“I am a life member of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and I supported Maryan Street’s End of Life Choice Bill.

I have read the affidavits of Dr Hickey, Ms Wicks and Ms Hunt (Care Alliance). They say that they oppose the legalisation of assisted dying, as they fear the consequences that it may have for people with disabilities. They argue that it will make people with unique function feel obliged to end their own lives so as not to be a burden on family, friends, and society.

While I agree with the anti-eugenic sentiments, I do not share their views on assisted dying. Moreover, I find their arguments patronising. They amount to saying that members of the disabled community have such a low sense of self worth that the availability of assisted dying would make them feel obliged to end their lives in order to avoid being a burden on others. In my opinion there is no justification for projecting that view onto an entire category of society. I doubt the witnesses for the Care Alliance have such a low sense of self worth; I certainly do not.

I understand Lecretia’s case to be about her autonomy and her right to be able to live as long as she possibly can, with the knowledge that she can choose to end her life in a dignified way when her suffering becomes intolerable to her.

Disabled people have the same rights to dignity and autonomy as non-disabled people. Disabled people can also suffer from terminal illnesses.

While I understand that Lecretia’s case is not about legalising assisted dying generally, I disagree with the argument that doing so would exacerbate disenfranchisement of disabled people. To the contrary, I believe the process of legalisation would have great benefits. This is because it would bring society’s attitudes of discrimination towards disabled people into the public consciousness through debate in parliament and the media.

In my opinion, disabled people are currently more at risk from suicide-related harm than if assisted dying were legal.

I believe that conflating the issues of disability discrimination and assisted dying is not useful for either disabled people, or for competent people (disabled or otherwise) who are suffering from a terminal illness, and are seeking the right to choose assistance to die.

As a staunchly active disabled person, I value equally my right to live and my right to choose to end my life in the case of acute suffering. If I were to be in a position where my suffering was intolerable, and assisted dying was available, I would want the right to choose to end my suffering.

We as a society should not deny one right by promoting another. I believe that complex issues such as euthanasia need to be approached on a case-by-case basis, and with love not fear.”

Views of others

I have discussed my views on assisted dying with other disabled people, both men and women. In all cases they have told me that, if they were suffering from a terminal illness and found their suffering intolerable, they would want the option of assisted dying.

None of the people I spoke to believed that legalising assisted dying would result, as one person put it, “in a mass exodus of disabled people,” requesting assisted dying as a result of their own belief that they are a burden to society, or because of pressure from others.

This blog originally appeared on www.philippatston.com.  It has been re-posted on DPSN with permission.

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