A new report affirms what many opponents of assisted suicide have long feared: so-called “death with dignity” laws pose a grave threat to people with disabilities.
The National Council on Disability released its report Wednesday on “The Danger of Assisted Suicide Laws,” concluding that “Assisted suicide laws contain provisions intended to safeguard patients from problems or abuse,” but “these provisions are ineffective, and often fail to protect patients in a variety of ways… .”
Physician-assisted suicide is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, with Maine’s euthanasia law officially taking effect last month. But despite the growing popularity of such laws, the NCD noted several areas of concern.
The independent federal government agency cited examples like insurers favoring lethal drugs over “expensive, lifesustaining medical treatment,” thus “leading patients toward hastening their own deaths.” Misdiagnoses of terminal diseases, as well as “financial and emotional pressures” can also lead more patients to consider assisted suicide. The report notes people with depression are particularly vulnerable in places where assisted suicide is legal.
People with disabilities are subject to “demoralization” under assisted suicide laws, the NCD argues, as they can affirm a disabled patient’s “internalized oppression, such as being conditioned to regard help as undignified and burdensome, or to regard disability as an inherent impediment to quality of life.”
“Demoralization can also result from the lack of options that people depend on,” the report continues. “These problems can lead patients toward hastening their deaths—and doctors who conflate disability with terminal illness or poor quality of life are ready to help them.”
The report adds that “most health professionals lack training and experience in working with people with disabilities,” making them ill-equipped to act in their best interests.
The NCD cites Dr. Carol Gill, Ph.D., Professor Emerita in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, whose research shows “the tendency to equate disability with burdensomeness is pervasive in our society, placing people with disabilities and seriously ill people at substantial risk of demoralization.”
The NCD, which has been advocating against assisted suicide bills for decades, explained its concerns “stem from the understanding that if assisted suicide is legal, some people’s lives, particularly those of people with disabilities, will be ended without their fully informed and free consent, through mistakes, abuse, insufficient knowledge, and the unjust lack of better options.”
Though assisted suicide laws often tout their ability to provide “death with dignity” for terminal patients, the council asserts, “The idea that hastened death is a pathway to dignity for people facing physical decline reveals the public’s extreme disparagement of functional limitations and a perception that ‘dignity’ is not possible for people who rely on supports, technology, or caregivers to be independent or alive.”
“Assisted suicide laws are premised on the notion of additional choice for people at the end of their lives,” NCD Chairman Neil Romano said in a statement Wednesday, as reported by The Blaze, “however, in practice, they often remove choices when the low-cost option is ending one’s life versus providing treatments to lengthen it or services and supports to improve it.”