In the wake of elbowgate, the attention surrounding what has been going on in parliament has been displaced and an important bill ignored.
The bill being discussed right now is in response to a Supreme Court ruling that states that patients have a chartered guaranteed right to end their lives with dignity. In the coming month the laws regarding doctor assisted suicide will become void, and so parliament is in a rush to pass a bill that would more specifically outline what that would mean.
The discussion around the right to die with dignity is one fraught with emotion on both sides. I would like to admit from the outset that I am not as familiar with the contents of the bill as I should be. I plan to change that, but I wanted to offer my own opinion on this issue.
On the one hand, patients have a right to bodily autonomy. A person should have the right to decide that they are done fighting and would rather hasten the inevitable. A person should have the choice to die a more pleasant death when the alternative is a long convalescence, or pain and suffering.
As someone who deals with a variety of painful and chronic conditions, which put me at risk for other painful and possibly fatal conditions, I believe in the need for patient bodily autonomy. I believe that doctors should be allowed to assist to make sure that the end is as pleasant as possible. It is an option of which I may one day find myself taking advantage of, when the time comes.
I do however have serious concerns. In a world that is already ableist to the point of not treating disabled lives as having value, I fear what a judgement granting the right to assisted suicide will mean for those who cannot speak for themselves. We already live in a world where parents murder their disabled children and get away with it. We live in a world that allows parents to stunt their disabled children’s growth. That allows parents to permanently sterilize their daughters. That allows parents to overrule the bodily autonomy of their disabled children.
Getting people to see the need for more accessibility is already extremely difficult. Getting people to see disabled people as being human, let alone capable of making decisions for themselves is still a struggle we face every day.
Every year, the government makes a decision of whether or not I am still worth treating. In the last few years they have started to question whether I’m a good enough investment. They are considering whether they should stop covering my medication that I cannot afford on my own. It costs $10,000 every six weeks. I would need to make over $87 thousand dollars a year just to cover the medication. And yet, because I am not getting better fast enough for them, they are starting to think that I am a wasted investment. If no other medication will work for me, this could mean that the government will eventually decide that it is not worth keeping me alive anymore. Is my consolation prize going to be that the insurance will cover the drugs to kill me instead?
The medication that helps improve my quality of life, that allows me to manage my symptoms without resorting to opiates except when in the hospital, is not covered. Next month when the last of our savings are used up, I won’t be able to buy it any more. I will get to experience more pain, more nausea, and a harder time digesting food.
The money I receive from ODSP is barely enough to live on. It’s not enough to live on by myself. It means every month is a scrape to find extra funds to cover the cost of living. I’m not the only one struggling either. Disability has not been enough to really live on in some time. Too many people on disability are forced to live in subsidized housing, which is often not entirely accessible. Too many people with disabilities are forced to live in poverty.
We live in a society that already makes it difficult for disabled people to live, I fear that soon we will be encouraged to die. “Don’t like the fact that you can’t afford to buy groceries, just go kill yourself.” I fear disabled people facing further pressure from friends, from society, and from the government itself to either endure difficult and even dangerous circumstances or to choose to “die with dignity.” If disabled people are put in circumstances where death seems like the preferable choice, then we haven’t really given them a choice. A choice made under duress is no choice at all.
Does this mean the government should ban assisted suicide? No.
It means the government, that society, that everyone needs to make accessibility a priority. We need to make it so that sick people and those who are disabled aren’t just dying with dignity but living with it too. That we are living with access to basic necessities. That we are allowed to thrive and not just barely survive. We need to work on dismantling the idea that disability is in itself misery, that death is preferable to being disabled, that people with disabilities are worth less, and that disabled people are a burden. We need to address the rates of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse faced by disabled people. We need to call out ableism and highlight the voices of disabled people.
We need to grant bodily autonomy to everyone with a disability, not just those who wish to die.