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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Idaho is a Dangerous Place to Live

I have posted about assisted suicide and its impact on the disability community. The link between disability and assisted suicide is a constant and ever present reminder that life with a disability is not valued. Of all the people I have met that have a disability those with cognitive issues are the most stigmatized. This is so wrong, so hurtful, so unnecessary that I am at a total loss as to how any caring human can tolerate such stigmatization. But stigma abounds for those with a cognitive deficit and I never cease to be appalled by the way people with cognitive disabilities are isolated from routine social interaction. One experience I had a few years ago highlighted this. I vividly recall going to a Hartford Wolfpack game in Hartford, CT. The Wolfpack are an American Hockey League Team affiliated with my beloved New York Rangers. I was at the game with my son and shortly after we arrived we saw a group of ten to fifteen cognitively disabled adults being escorted to their seats. This group of men and women were seated about ten to fifteen rows away from me. In spite of the fact the arena was crowded within a short period of time I was shocked to notice that this group was circled by rows of empty seats. This was the strangest seating configuration I had ever seen until it dawned on me that the people sitting next to the group people with a cognitively disability purposely left their seats. Why did people move from their seats? They did not want to sit next to a person with a cognitive disability. This bigoted behavior haunts me. I will never forget what took place. How can people be so closed minded? Would these people move if a black man sat next to them? Of course not, that would be bigotry. But these same people saw nothing wrong with moving when a person with a cognitive deficit sat next to them.

I thought of the above group of people with a cognitive disability when I read about an assisted suicide bill that passed in Idaho by a count of 34-0. The bill will allow medical treatment to be withheld from developmentally disabled people if their guardians or conservators consider continued medical care futile or inhumane. Read that last sentence very carefully. The Idaho bill, Senate Bill NO. 1114, would allow a guardian or conservator to withhold medical treatment. In essence, if a person with a "developmental disability" wants to live life support and life sustaining measures can be removed. And who gets to decide what "futile" and "inhumane" means? Doctors and ethics committees. This boggles my mind. Surely the men and women that wrote this law know a little bit of history. Did they ever hear of the T4 program in Nazi Germany? How about the Eugenics Movement in this country? What about Willowbrook Institution? Let me expand upon my reference to Willowbrook Institution. The deplorable conditions at Willowbrook Institution were gut wrenching and a national disgrace. Yet to me the worst part of the Willowbrook controversy was that doctors, social workers, school administrators, neighbors, priests, rabbis, and people too numerous to mention all convinced, forced, parents to institutionalize their children. Fast forward 30 years and the law makers in Idaho now want to give people in identical positions the power to decide whether a person with a developmental disability lives or dies? This thought kept me up last night and I shudder to think of the consequences this law can have on one group of needlessly stigmatized people.

6 comments:

Terri said...

And the lawmakers passed this law because they "know" that disability causes "great suffering" and the people who don't "know" this (as evidenced by their having a cognitive disability and wanting to live) should not have final say.

Just paint a target on their backs.

william Peace said...

Teri, There are too many assisted suicide bills that have passed into law and more waiting to be subject of debate. The flood gates are being opened up and no one seems alarmed or thinking about the larger implications of assisted suicide laws. The mainstream media coverage is dreadful and routinely misrepresents the facts.

Alison Hymes said...

It just got worse in Virginia, now POA's can authorize research not for the benefit of the patient if the person is considered legally incapacitated, this will apply to everyone, people with Alzheimers, people in a coma, people with mental illness in a hospital, etc. We already have a "futile care" law like Texas and have for years. Virginia is a dangerous place to live. I'm hoping to move...

william Peace said...

Alison, The push for assisted suicide and the broader implications are deeply disturbing. In the last year the assisted suicide movement has gained a tremendous amount of traction. I am really worried about this and how it will affect the lives of many disenfranchised people.

AlisonHymes said...

The one good thing this year is that Final Exit folks were arrested and Stephen Drake of Not Dead Yet is actually getting some opportunties to speak out in the media, TV and print. Some of the coverage has been completely one-sided and biased towards assisted-suicide of course, but not all. At least the word is getting out to a few more folks than it would have and maybe the arrests will scare the FEN and the Hemlock Society a bit. Or that's my hope.

william Peace said...

Alison, Stephen Drake is indeed getting more exposure. This is good but pales in comparison to the financial and media support the assisted suicide movement receives. I find this frustrating in the extreme.