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January 18, 2006 | Read comments | Post a comment

Physician-assisted suicide is legal

Our CloserLook article on Ragged Edge gets at some of the many many issues that yesterday's Supreme Court ruling in the Gonzales v. Oregon assisted-suicide case raise.

Not Dead Yet issued a press release yesterday -- Diane Coleman has been on the news more this time, it seems, than before. That's good. Very good.

In the release, Diane says,

we continue our criticism of the Administration for not bringing the challenge to the Oregon law under the Americans With Disabilities Act. As Justice Kennedy points out, the law "only" applies to very sick people. Making suicide easy and socially approved for people who, according to the Oregon Reports, feel like burdens on their families, is discrimination against a socially devalued group. Assisted suicide is not a benefit, it's a threat....

If the values of liberty really dictate that society legalizes assisted suicide, then legalize it for everyone who asks for it, not just the devalued old, ill and disabled. Otherwise, what looks like freedom is really only discrimination.

I wonder if down the road we won't see cases filed by with people with severe spinal cord injuries or ALS, arguing that laws like Oregon's, which say that you must be judged -- by two physicians -- that you have less than 6 months to live -- are discriminatory in that they do not allow assisted suicide for non-terminal but severely disabled people who want to end their lives. Sort of like ADA cases are filed against public accommodations not open to disabled people. If assisted suicide is a right, the argument would go, why can't a severely disabled person who wants it be allowed to have it?


Our former prez Bill Clinton is credited with saying that abortion should be "legal and rare." Of course that was an excellent thought, albeit unrealistic. It goes directly to the nexus of law and culture.

My epigraph to Make Them Go Away reads, "A law cannot guarantee what a culture will not give."

I find myself coming back to that epigraph in the current situation. Nothing will really change in the assisted suicide debate until our culture's attitudes about life with disability change. Movies like Million Dollar Baby, which we were all het up over this time last year, won't stop being made because activist crips yell about them. They will continue to be made because they express what our culture actually believes. Laws don't change that.

Posted by mjohnson on January 18, 2006 03:50 PM


What I can't understand for the life of me, is how you can say that this law is discrminatory becuase it only focuses on people who at least two physicians say have only 6 months to live. And then you turn around and complain that the culture is devaluing people with disabilities.

Don't get me wrong, I've been working with people with DD for the last 6 years, as far as I'm concerned, they're some of the greatest assests society has. But I understand your point, my opinion is biased because of my own experience, but yes, America as a whole, does not believe that any person with a disability is as important as those without, it's pretty digusting.

However, your argument makes no sense. To say that the law is discriminatory because it only focuses on those who have 6 months to live, and that this is discrminatory because society doesn't value people with disabilities. Excuse me, but, where's the connection. Sounds to me like the law is specifically trying not to put pressure on eveyone with a terminal illness or disability. Not discriminating.

Anyways, I don't like the law either way. But that's my point of view. Thanks for letting me sound off.

Posted by: Matt on January 19, 2006 08:28 AM

"Laws don't change that." Indeed. As we search for what does or even might change that almost inevitably we encounter the fundamental need for connections.

Even though many of those close to PWD don't "get it" there's still a fairly strong case for holding that if folks get to know us, they will be amenable to changed attitudes.

If "quality of life" is to be ascribed to some situation, at least it might be defined by its "user"?


Posted by: William Loughborough on January 19, 2006 09:05 AM

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