Older, ill and disabled people deserve choice-promoting services, supports

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Published: 8/12/2020 3:24:03 PM
Modified: 8/12/2020 3:23:53 PM

I disagree with Joan Milnes’s call for passage of the assisted suicide bill now in the legislature ("Making a final choice about quality-of-life,” July 28). Her framing of it as an individual matter of “choice” about one’s so-called “quality-of-life” is prejudicial and dangerous.

Milnes’s example is her cousin Tony with cystic fibrosis who, at his doctors’ suggestion, had his life-sustaining ventilator turned off because he couldn’t speak or eat. But whereas Tony had the long-established privacy right — regardless of reason — to discontinue any bodily intervention, assisted suicide denies choice and endangers everyone. That’s because real choice resides with insurers, whose profit-maximizing denials of prescribed treatments can make you terminal.

Assisted suicide becomes the cheapest “medical treatment,” a “benefit” to be extended to evermore people. Choice belongs to abusive family and caregivers, who can bully you into requesting the drugs, witness the request, fetch the drugs, and even administer them without worry.

The bill grants complete immunity to anyone involved in the suicide. Doctor misdiagnosis puts 6 million people yearly at risk of severe harm, and 12% to 15% of people with a terminal diagnosis are not really dying. Hundreds of people have needlessly lost years of life to these mistakes. No choice there!

Quality-of-life judgments have fueled proposed state policies to deny disabled people ventilators if there is a shortage, and to deny treatment to people like disabled Texan Michael Hickson, whose hospital denied his family’s request for COVID-19 treatment and allowed him to die.

As someone commonly described as “paralyzed from the neck down,” I am constantly exposed to prejudicial messages that I would be better off dead. In our current crisis, we should be doing all we can to promote mutual aid and interdependence.

Older, ill and disabled people deserve choice-promoting services and supports like funded home care, not death on the quick and easy.

John B. Kelly is a long-time disability rights advocate and writer in Boston who is director of Second Thoughts MA: Disability Rights Advocates against Assisted Suicide.


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