UN alarmed at euthanasia for disability

A new statement issued by the UN Human Rights Council, which includes the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has sounded the alarm about the growing trend to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide for people with a disability or disabling conditions, who are not terminally ill.

The issue is currently the subject of particular focus because of legislation before the Federal government in Canada which seeks to remove the requirement that a person’s natural death be reasonably foreseeable from the country’s euthanasia laws.

The UN statement provides that such legislation would “institutionalise and legally authorise ableism and directly violate Article 10 on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires States to ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively enjoy their inherent right to life on an equal basis with others.”

“Under no circumstances should the law provide that it could be a well-reasoned decision for a person with a disabling condition who is not dying to terminate their life with the support of the State.”

In effect, the authors argue, such laws are singling out a single minority group and the suffering experienced as a result of their minority status as making them eligible to receive euthanasia and assisted suicide:

“We all accept that it could never be a well-reasoned decision for a person belonging to any other protected group – be it a racial minority, gender or sexual minorities – to end their lives because they experienced suffering on account of their status.”

They also make the point that “the proportion of people with disabilities living in poverty is significantly higher, and in some countries double than that of people without disabilities. “

“People with disabilities condemned to live in poverty due to the lack of adequate social protection can decide to end their lives as a gesture of despair. Set against the legacy of accumulated disadvantages their ‘architecture of choice’ could hardly be said to be unproblematic.”

The current COVID crisis around the world has exposed the discrimination that people with disabilities experience in relation to receiving equitable access to life saving treatments.  

Diane Coleman, President of Not Dead Yet argues that this demonstrated experience of discrimination by people with disabilities exposes the lie at the heart of arguments made by euthanasia advocates: 

“Advocacy organizations supporting assisted suicide laws have pushed for public acceptance based on a generalized trust that medical providers are both willing and able to protect very ill individuals from medical mistakes as well as coercion and abuse. But that trust is, in many cases, misplaced and, in all cases, unrealistic. Claims that there have been no abuses are patently false, but more cases would surface if these laws were not designed to hide them.  Assisted suicide laws must be rejected. The so-called “safeguards” cannot protect older, ill and disabled people from the discriminatory attitudes that permeate society including, as COVID policies have shown us, the medical system on which all of us depend.”